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Rio - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B-
Acting: B-
Writing: D-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B
Animation: B+

I don't know who thought up the idea of casting Jesse Eisenberg as a bird, but they were misguided. Watching Blue, the rare macaw in the mostly dreadful animated feature Rio, creates a feeling of unusual disconnect. When he talks, it's not like watching a bird that can talk. It's like watching a bird lip syncing to Jesse Eisenberg.

Eisenberg has a very distinctive voice. In live action films, seen in the body the voice naturally came in, it sounds right, if a little weasely. By itself, it sounds very weasely. Jesse Eisenberg should be cast in an animated feature as a weasel. That would work.

Almost all of Rio doesn't. Warner Brothers Animation still doesn’t seem to understand the potential benefits of hiring a writing staff as talented as their animators. Because indeed, the animation is great. It's not quite on par with Pixar, but it's within reaching distance. Setting the film in both the neighborhoods and surrounding jungles of Rio de Janeiro allows for some wonderfully lively and colorful visuals, and the animators are up to the task. Rio is a great movie to watch if you're deaf and don't want to bother with closed captioning.

Rio struggles under the unfortunate weight of a committee of writers -- four of them. To their credit, the script will easily entertain ten-year-olds. They're too young to understand how tired every single attempt at a "gag" in this movie is. The adults who take them to see it might have a harder time of it. Halfway through the movie I felt like I was being punished for something.

This is always the struggle with animated features -- how to reach the entire audience. Rio reaches only children, and maybe not even some of them, given how much more sophisticated kids are now than they used to be. This probably could have been a huge hit had it been released twenty years ago. Sure, it was #1 last weekend, but considering the fresh competition that's like winning a sack race against a bunch of paraplegics.

The movie starts promising enough: a burst of color, a charmingly infectious bit of music. Blu has just been hatched, although evidently his parents are nowhere to be found. Then suddenly all the birds of the jungle are engaged in a frantic song and dance number, and it's a harbinger of unfortunate things to come. The song is semi-catchy. The lyrics are only moderately decipherable. And then all the birds, including Blu, are caught in traps.

Blu finds himself in Minnesota, where he grows up with the girl who found him in a box that fell off the back of a truck. Blu never learns to fly but he's okay with this because he accompanies Linda in her book store where he's fed a diet of chocolate chip cookies and hot chocolate. Then a Brazilian guy shows up out of the blue, discovers Blu, and offers to fly him and Linda all the way down to Rio so Blu can mate with the only other known living specimen of his species.

Granted it's a cartoon, but Rio is not long on common sense. But, whatever. You can’t have everything. Linda and Blu find themselves in Rio, and Blu finds himself in an enclosure with the other trapped macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), with whom he's expected to, you know, get down.

I told a friend about the concept of this film and she said, "So it's a sex movie?" The writers actually carefully avoid any direct references to sex, except for one scene in which a visual gag is intended to make other characters think they're having sex. (They're fighting to remove the chain that's bound their legs together.) This is no doubt why the movie was rated PG. The gag, in fact, is not funny at all. Just like virtually all the rest of them, it falls flat.

Watching Rio is a lot like watching a comedian who thinks he's funny but clearly isn't. You almost feel embarrassed for it. The addition of several more songs, turning it onto a semi-musical, doesn't help. The villainous cockatoo, who helps smugglers steal a bunch of birds out of the lab Blu was taken to, gets a spotlight performance, complete with self-consciously "clever" lyrics that are just painful.

The single inspired casting choice is of Tracy Morgan as a bulldog. His part is minor, but there are hints of Morgan's bent comic genius. Unfortunately, there is the feeling that he perhaps let loose in the studio and then all the best stuff was left on the cutting room floor. Morgan needs to be cast in a bigger role in a much better animated movie. This is a guy born to play a silly cartoon character -- but in a movie with actual wit.

Rio is not that movie.

Tracy Morgan (the bulldog) is about the only even semi-entertaining addition to the voice cast of 'Rio', which includes a miscast Jesse Eisenberg (the blue macaw)

Overall: C
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