Four minutes in, Rio sets itself apart from the Ice Age movies the animators at Blue Sky made before it. A rain forest filled with parrots, macaws, cockatoos and toucans sing and dance the samba in a flying delirium of color. And then the poachers show up.Comical, colorful, wonderfully cast and beautifully animated, Rio is the first Blue Sky movie that could be compared to the best of Pixar. It examines weighty subjects with a light touch, embraces the music of the culture it visits and delivers delights like few cartoons this side of the Golden Age of Disney. This is an adventure comedy about endangered species set to a rump-shaking beat. Blu, given a witty, nervous nerdy voice by the wonderful Jesse Eisenberg, was nabbed during the bird-napping expedition in the opening. He tumbles into the hands of little Linda, and they grow up in Moose Lake, Minn., devoted to each other. Fifteen years later, a goofy scientist (Rodrigo Santoro) talks shy, homebody Linda (Leslie Mann) into bringing Blu to Rio de Janeiro. Blu is the last male cerulean blue macaw, and there’s a female blue macaw destined to be his Miss Right. Of course, the spunky, jungle-savvy Jewel (Anne Hathaway) wants nothing from Blu but his help escaping. That’s tricky, as he never learned how to fly. And then they’re poached, again, by a gang of thieves with a wicked pet cockatoo (a perfect Jemaine Clement). The macaws will have to learn to work together, and they’ll need the help of a friendly, henpecked toucan (George Lopez), a couple of streetwise, crooning/rapping songbirds (Jamie Foxx, will. i. am) and a daffy bulldog (Tracy Morgan) to pull this off. The action happens during Carnival, Brazil’s nationwide party of costumed parades, an orgy of glitter and song. The film showcases, in dazzling animated digital 3-D, the glories of Rio and this festival. Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha may have earned his bones with those obscenely successful Ice Age movies, but give him a project close to his heart — he co-scripted Rio — and the movie just sings. Literally. Sergio Mendes consulted on the music, and from the assorted sambas and insertion of The Girl from Ipanema to the bossa nova beat of other tunes it shows. There isn’t a bad voice in the mix. The songs themselves don’t compare with Disney’s best, even Clement’s wickedly funny Pretty Bird. But Rio is such a delight, so much better than anything we’ve seen in animated form this year, that you won’t mind the 3-D premium prices. You won’t hate that your children want to watch the Blu-ray over and over again, and you won’t dread the compulsion the filmmakers will feel to do sequels — lots and lots of sequels — and probably spoil the concept as they do.
Movie InfoVoices: voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Jamie Foxx.
Director: Carlos Saldanha.
Screenwriters: Don Rhymer and Carlos Saldanha.
Producers: Bruce Anderson and John C. Donkin..
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 92 minutes. No offensive material. Playing at area theaters.