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Rio

A Colorful Carnival

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rio, from Blue Sky Studios, is a animated animal action-comedy set primarily in Rio de Jeneiro during Carnival season.

Directed by Carlos Saldanha, who also directed the Ice Age sequels and Robots, Rio opens with the first of 12 or 13 samba-influenced song-and-dance routines featuring colorfully plumaged rain forest birds.

Just as Rio’s central character, a rare Spix’s Macaw, enters the jungle’s song-and-dance through the air (his first flight), smugglers kidnap him and ship him to the United States.

Through a combination of circumstances, the unnamed bird ends up on Moose Lake, Minnesota, found by a 10-year-old girl on a cold, wintry street. In an Up-influenced montage, the next fifteen years of Blu’s (Jesse Eisenberg) life flash by in a stream of images, taking Linda (Leslie Mann), Blu’s owner, into young adulthood as the owner of a small bookshop in town, with Blu as Linda’s constant, primary companion.

Domesticated bliss seems to define Blu’s existence as Linda’s companion, but it also hides a neurotic streak. Blu can’t fly, telegraphing both Rio’s themes of selflessness and maturity. Everything changes when a Brazilian ornithologist, Túlio (Rodrigo Santoro), enters their lives on another in a seemingly endless series of snow-filled days. Túlio has spent an unspecified amount of time tracking down Blu (probably spotting Blu on the bookstore’s website or Facebook), the last male of his kind. Túlio wants to mate Blu with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female Spix’s Macaw.

After some coaxing (but no song-and-dance for once), the three travel to Brazil. Not surprisingly, Jewel reacts negatively to Blu’s appearance. He’s everything she’s not: He’s trustful (of humans), prefers domesticity to freedom, and prefers to avoid risks rather than take them. With the help of a faded, jaded Cockatoo and one-time performer, Nigel (Jemaine Clement), smugglers sneak into the bird sanctuary and kidnap Blu and Jewel, chaining them together (in an apparent or coincidental homage to The Defiant Ones). Typical scrapes and escapes follow, with Blu’s inability to fly a constant barrier to freedom, setting up the obligatory climax to the obligatory third act.

Primary colors reign supreme in Rio, a color palette fitting for Brazil’s native bird species (if, in fact, they’re as diverse and colorful as Rio makes out). The multi-colored birds, combined with unobtrusive 3D and easy-to-follow set pieces on the ground and in the air, provide Rio with practically every reason necessary to see it theatrically, but some of those reasons are offset by Rio’s play-it-safe, take-no-risks storytelling.

Saldanha makes the smugglers poor and dumb, standard qualities in family-oriented entertainment, but also dark-skinned or mixed-race Brazilians. To be fair, Saldanha ameliorates this issue through the presence of Fernando (Jake T. Austin), an orphaned teen who’s joined the smugglers out of economic necessity. Despite his abject poverty, Fernando somehow hasn’t lost his kind, compassionate nature.

There’s less rationale, except cross-demographic marketing, for the presence of Pedro (Will.i.am), a Red-crested Cardinal, and Nico (Jamie Foxx), a Yellow Canary, introduced early on as a kind of Greek chorus and, of course, comic relief (they’re neither). Their behavior, if made with the convenient cover of animation, would be easily considered minstrelry.

As a side note, Rio might be too intense for smaller children (e.g., five and under), especially when Nigel, Rio’s central villain makes an appearance to terrorize or otherwise intimidate Blu and Jewel and any other birds that get in his way. With his sagging, pink-rimmed eyelids, mottled, dirty feathers, and menacing, threatening manner, Nigel is equal parts frightening and repulsive. Older children and adults, however, will probably revel in Nigel’s mean-spirited villainy, ably voiced by the criminally underused Clement.