Saturday, March 31, 2012

3 short paragraphs: Rio

2011, Carlos Saldanha -- Netflix

For a few days after watching Rio for the first time, my daughter kept asking to watch "the bird movie".  I would divert her attention to something else, usually Pixar related or something a bit shorter.  Rio isn't a terrible movie, but it's also not an exceptionally engaging one either.  The central character, Blu, a rare blue macaw, was poached as a hatchling in Brazil, and smuggled into Minnesota where he's accidentally ejected from a van and rescued by a young girl, Linda.  Decades later he's a fully domesticated animal,, though never having learned to fly, and sharing a near-symbiotic relationship with Linda.  A Brazilian zoologist approaches Linda about bringing Blu to Rio de Janiero in order to mate with Jewel, an equally rare female blue macaw, in hopes of preserving their species.  Though hesitant (as she's a bit of a shut-in) Linda agrees, but Blu and Jewel don't exactly hit it off, and are targeted by poachers who steal them from their sanctuary.  The separation anxiety between Linda and Blu is palpable, but as Blu and Jewel escape, chained to each other, Blu also experiences nature versus nurture anxiety.

The components should all be there for a solid animated feature, having some deep emotional and psychological underpinnings, and an adventure with some weight for the characters, but it just never clicks.  Part of it may be Jesse Eisenberg as Blu.  Yes, he's the quintessential neurotic performer, perhaps the best since Woody Allen, but he's also not terribly appealing, and Blu isn't particularly charming or funny. Invariably, at times it feels like a nerd-winning-over-the-hot-chick kind of 80's teen comedy, the kind which always focuses on the guy and provides little characterization for the girl, treating them more as a prize at the end of their trials and tribulations, but even then the romantic aspect is barely present.  More than Blu's need to return to Linda, it's Linda's almost crippling dependency on Blu that has the biggest impact, but Linda, like every other character that is not Blu, gets the short-shift story-wise.  This is Blu's story, but it seems following almost any other character would be more interesting.

Ultimately, the adventure Blu and Jewel go on is underwhelming, in part due to the nature/nurture conflict Blu experiences.  It's a "leaving the nest" allegory, with Blu falling in love and invariably leaving home, that doesn't clearly identify itself as such until the finale.  The characters they meet along the way are the expected comic relief types, voiced by George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, and Tracey Morgan, amongst others, all contributing little to the character, and somewhat inessential to the main conflict.  Surprisingly, the climax at Carnival actually does the big party parade a disservice, looking far too spare and less spectacular than the real thing.  There's a workable, likeable story within, but somehow Rio fumbles it all into yet another generic CGI kiddie pic by trying to be too many things at once.