Sunday, 30 March 2014

From the archive: "Rio"

In the field of animation, the Fox-affiliated Blue Sky Studios have established themselves as the upstart kid brother to Disney-Pixar and DreamWorks, those twin corporate behemoths who'd already got two Toy Storys and a Shrek on the board before the former could launch their Ice Age franchise. The 2011 effort Rio - plotting a domesticated macaw's passage from his home in a Minnesota bookseller's window to mate with the last female of his species in a Carnaval-readying Rio de Janeiro - is typical of Blue Sky's output: it's functional, colourful, funny in places - and still a film you couldn't ever imagine anybody needing to see twice. (Though evidently enough youngsters sat through it once to justify the forthcoming sequel.)

DreamWorks' formative Antz got a comic boost from plunging an insect with the voice and personality of Woody Allen into the middle of a revolution. Rio goes for something similar by casting latter-day Allen surrogate Jesse Eisenberg (To Rome with Love) as Blu, a nerd-bird ill-suited to the physical exertion (flying, seduction) imposed upon him; I liked his very Allen-ish response to the sights and sounds of a heaving nightclub: "This place is amazing - you know, apart from all the obvious health code violations." Around him, there are lively glimpses of a city forever on the brink of a colossal party, one top-drawer joke about monkey text messaging, and solid voicework from Anne Hathaway as flighty love interest Jewel, 30 Rock's Tracy Morgan as a junkyard dog, and Jemaine Clement - a new go-to guy for plummy-throated, Rickman-like villainy - as a nefarious parakeet named Nigel.

The only distinguishing aspect would be the film's swaying, site-specific rhythms, which are loose enough to get to even an uptight nebbish like Blu. Most half-term fodder plumps for visual and narrative clutter, striving to throw in one novelty after another out of a desperate need to distract attention-deficient kids or encourage post-film rushes on the merchandise stand. Rio loses points for the inclusion of professional bellend in a spurious bid for crossover cachet, but - proceeding to a selection of light guitar strums and scarcely more strenuous samba beats engineered by music producer Sergio Mendes - it's unusually relaxed and breezy: animation comfortable in its own feathers, no matter that they're rarely distinctive or layered enough to elevate the whole above the rest of the animated flock.

Rio is available on DVD through Fox Home Entertainment; a sequel, Rio 2, opens in cinemas nationwide from Friday, and is reviewed here.

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