Rio Flies Too High.... Too High
The makers of "Ice Age" have decided to take a vacation from the cold and literally venture into warmer- much warmer- territory. Indeed, after three consecutive outings through sub-zero temperatures, director Carlos Saldanha has set his sights on the tropical city of Rio de Janeiro- also the second largest city of Brazil- where summer temperatures often hit a sizzling 40 °C. And what a wondrous source of inspiration this sojourn has been for the Brazilian-born Saldanha, whose "Rio" bursts forth from the screen with unparalleled colour, imagination and sheer energy.
Saldanha wants you to know that he is in Rio to have a party, so right from the beginning, all manner of feathered creatures of different sizes, colours and species welcome a new dawn in the lush tropical rainforest with a boisterous acrobatic sequence, set to the infectious beat of the legendary Sergio Mendes (who serves as executive music producer here). Among the greenery is the birthplace of our protagonist, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), an exotic blue macaw who is subsequently taken out of his nest and domesticated by a local bookshop owner Linda (Leslie Mann) in the snowy Minnesota town of Moose Lake.
A visiting ornithologist from Rio, Tulio, offers a quick and convenient excuse for Blu to return to his native land- the last male of his species, he is needed to mate with a feisty female called Jewel (Anne Hathaway) for the continuity of his kind. Jewel, on the other hand, is only intent on escaping her captivity, but things get complicated when she and Blu are abducted from Tulio's lab by smugglers and chained to each other. By sheer luck and some ingenuity, they manage to escape, and spend the rest of the time trying to cut themselves free from each other, while evading capture by the bad guys and their evil cockatoo Nigel (Flight of the Conchords' Jermaine Clement).
Staying true to formula, Blu and Jewel will bicker like the typical mismatched couple at the beginning, only to fall in love with each other by the end. Predictable though the journey may be, veteran screenwriter Don Rhymer makes the journey a pure delight every step of the way with great supporting characters, witty lines and hilarious scenarios. Not often do we find all three in equal measure within a movie, but "Rio" is a perfect example of the laugh-out-loud hilarity that ensues when these three elements come together so beautifully.
A tram ride up the slopes of Rio is turned into a matchmaking opportunity by Blu and Jewel's three travel companions- a Toucan named Rafael (George Lopez) and two wisecracking birds Pedro and Nico (will.i.am and Jamie Foxx)- as Rafael dispenses love advice to Blu while Pedro strums across the wires of a tram like a guitar and Nico croons a romantic tune. "Tell her you have beautiful eyes!" Rafael whispers to Blu, to which Blu turns to Jewel and says "Did you know that I have beautiful eyes?"
Rhymer also saves some of the best lines of the movie for Nigel. An uproarious song-and-dance item where he gets to introduce the depth of his villainy to his audience sees him prancing pompously around caged birds cowering in their cages singing lines like "like an abandoned school, I have no principal". And when recruiting a bunch of thieving monkeys as his henchmen to search for Blu and Jewel, Nigel warns them in a dead-serious tone, "no more monkey business".
Of course, these lines are only as good as the voice cast delivering them, and thankfully then, the cast Saldanha has assembled here is outstanding. Eisenberg oozes apprehension and trepidation with every line as the cowardly dork, Hathaway packs gusto as the spunky foil against Eisenberg, will.i.am and Foxx have perfect comic timing playing off each others lines, and Clement chews up his great one-liners with menacing glee (you may be keen to know that he also co-wrote the song "Pretty Bird" above). Their chemistry is palpable from start to finish, and their exchanges throughout the film are nothing less than spirited and lively.
But a lot of the energy in "Rio" is visual, courtesy of Saldanha's eye for detail and aptitude for action. The animation of each one of the characters, lead or supporting or even extra, is exceptional, their respective characteristics distinctive and inspired. The colors- unlike the duller, wintry landscapes of "Ice Age"- are dazzling and vibrant. And most of all, the action sequences best appreciated in 3D- a flight over Rio with a panoramic view of Guanbara Bay, a narrow escape over the rooftops of the favelas, and the climactic finale through the crowds at the city's annual Carnivale festival- explode with vigor and verve reminiscent of that in the city's signature samba music, whose Latin rhythms add generously to the film's oomph.
That oomph is simply part of the party that Saldanha invites you to be part of from beginning to end, and "Rio" has every bit of the infectious sounds of the drumbeats, the colors of the sequins, feathers and headdresses, and the energy of the performers in the city's most famous annual party festival. Yes, for those of us who probably can't afford to take that Singapore Airlines flight down to Brazil, this is the closest you'll get to soak in the sights and sounds of that lively city. The best part of it all? It's a party the whole family will enjoy.
This weekend, let's just say "Thank You" to Blu & Jewel for giving much better performances than the maniacs of the bolly release of this week.