SYDNEY (Hollywood Reporter) - One doesn’t go to Rio searching for the meaning of life at Carnivale and neither will you find it in “Rio,” a tropical-colored 3D animated wingding that will have kids and their chaperones shaking a tail feather to its pulsating Latin beats.
Carlos Saldanha, the Rio de Janeiro-born director of the “Ice Age” franchise, heads home to warmer climes to continue his winning streak with Blue Sky Studios, infusing his avian adventure with enough pep and spice to see it soar above a fairly ho-hum plotline.
Blue Sky’s last movie, “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs,” took nearly $900 million worldwide, making it among the highest grossing animated films ever, and “Rio” — balmy, bouncy, neither saccharine nor too scary — ticks similar family-friendly boxes without reinventing the animation wheel.
Twentieth Century Fox opens the G-rated frolic Thursday in Australia and territories across Europe, Asia and South America ahead of its U.S. bow on April 15.
Saldanha may never surpass the delightful squirrel-and-the-acorn sequence that opened “Ice Age,” but the hundreds of deftly syncopated Brazilian birds that spark up Rio’s opening musical number will do for now.
It’s here in the jungle that we meet Blu, a rare blue macaw who is getting ready to spread his wings when he is rudely snatched up by smugglers and whisked away to snow-bound Minnesota.
His savior appears in the guise of a bookish young girl who takes him in and rears him as a companion rather than a pet. Blu (spot-on whiny voicing by “Social Network’s” Jesse Eisenberg) leads a mollycoddled life of the mind with Linda (Leslie Mann) until one day dorky Brazilian ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to whisk him back to Rio to mate with the last remaining female of his species.
Feathers fly when Samba-hating nerd bird Blu is foisted upon the spirited Jewel (Anne Hathaway), a freedom-lover who has nothing but scorn for the neurotic homebody.
When Blu again falls foul of a motley crew of bird smugglers, Jewel finds herself chained to him and forced to work alongside him in their quest for liberty.
The fact that Blu has never learned to fly may earn Jewel’s scorn but it provides the filmmakers with plenty of scope for slapstick. And this film loves a good chase scene. Saldanha uses the exquisitely rendered backdrop of his spectacular hometown to great advantage, with visuals swooping high above the sunny beaches, jumbled favelas and iconic Sugarloaf Mountain as the escapees scamper along on trolleys and cable cars and, in one of the most uplifting sequences, atop the wings of a paraglider.
There’s color and movement aplenty, more than enough to stimulate the senses of the under-10s, but the screenplay, by Don Rhymer (Surf’s Up), Sam Harper (Cheaper by the Dozen), and Jeffrey Ventimilia and Joshua Sternin (Yogi Bear), often struggles to sustain the party atmosphere. The narrative follows the well-trodden path of a romantic chase caper, in this case featuring big-eyed CGI cuties, with some enervated subtexts about the evils of the wildlife black market and the perils of domestication.
A parallel love story featuring the human characters is hardly unexpected and it all wraps up neat and sparkling amid the bedazzled floats of the carnival parade.
Thank goodness, then, for Nigel, a villainous, red-eyed cockatoo who looks like he wandered in from the scruffily surreal set of Rango. Voiced by “Flight of the Conchords’” Jemaine Clement with a New Zealand accent and a high-camp sneer, he steals every scene he’s in, as well as contributing the memorably menacing “Pretty Bird” to an otherwise uptempo soundtrack overseen by veteran Sergio Mendes.
Voice work across the board is top-notch, with the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am and Jamie Foxx adding sass to their smooth-talking bird buddies, and comic George Lopez solid as a party-loving toucan named Rafael. Tracy Morgan has what amounts to a cameo as a drooling bulldog in a Carmen Miranda headpiece.