Rio: Fly, but not too high

For a movie ostensibly about learning to fly, Rio stays surprisingly close to the ground.

Hala Syed April 30, 2011
Pixar has spoiled me. Because, this studio continuously raises its own bar, I have come to associate digitally animated films with well written characters, poignant, heartfelt dialogue and nuanced story telling.

Perhaps I should lower my standards, because Rio does not measure up. It is not a family movie that appeals to children and adults on different levels. It is a movie for children and as such it’s not bad.

Watching this movie in the theatre was fairly enjoyable. The bright colors, 3D effects, caramel popcorn and people passing out Rio cookies (what a clever advertising campaign that just fell in to their laps) all combined to ensure a pleasant movie going experience.

But are ‘pleasant’ and ‘not bad’ really the adjectives to which movie makers should aspire?

For a movie ostensibly about learning to fly, Rio stays surprisingly close to the ground. Everything about it is familiar, predictable and recycled and therefore forgettable. While this might be a selling point for a lot of moviegoers, I find safe and cute somewhat offensive. Bad movies are forgivable when they try to achieve something and fail. But, what can be said about a mediocre movie that aims to be just that - mediocre?

The people at Blue Sky Studios (who gave us the equally amusing but unoriginal Ice Age series) were not trying to tell a story or add something new into the world. All they wanted to do was make a movie kids would go to once. There is about one movie made for children every other month and so bright, bouncy and fun are the only criteria needed to succeed at the box office. Parents have to take their children to Rio because there are no alternatives. But why should they pay for a movie they will not enjoy?

It’s this lazy attitude which rubs me the wrong way, almost as if they are saying
“We have the formula; we know it’ll get people in the seats, why should we make an effort to do better?”

********* Seen it before (and usually done better) **********

Plot related
1. Last of their species so they better procreate. Ice Age: The Meltdown
Alpha and Omega
2. Overprotective parent searching for their lost child (here pet) in process learning to be less cautions Finding Nemo
3. Domesticated animal trying to make it in the wild. Madagascar

4. Nerd love- Linda and Tulio. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
5. Hate each other at first but bickering actually means they’re totally in love - Blu and Jewel. Every rom-com ever.

6. Talking animals in exotic locations, making friends from faraway lands. Up

1. Two silly fast talking sidekicks - Nico and Pedro. Timon and Pumba from The Lion King
Lumiere and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast
2. Evil pet bird – Nigel. Iago from Aladdin
3. Spunky girl, who when she first meets the romantic hero doesn’t like him because she’s better than him in most ways (she later settles)-Jewel. Megara from Hercules

Esmeralda from Hunchback of Notre Dame

Eve from Wall-E

Astrid from How to train a dragon
4. Evil poachers. Clayton from Tarzan
Charles Muntz from Up
5. Lost pet finally seeing the world on his own. Bolt
6. Socially inept protagonist – Blu. How to Train Your Dragon
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Beauty and the Beast
Linguini from Ratatouille
Actual scenes
1. Sidekicks playing matchmaker create mood music (happens twice). “Kiss the girl” from The Little Mermaid

2. Little girl finds displaced animal, vows to take care of it, scene jumps forward however many years. Bolt

3. Chained together. Defiant Ones
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
The Bounty Hunter
4. Villain sings about what he does and how he enjoys being a villain – Nigel. All Disney Movies. most notably:

Ursula from Little Mermaid
Mother Knows Best from Tangled
Scar from Lion King

Although it bored me, Rio cannot be classified as boring because a lot is going on. Nothing meaningful, but a lot nonetheless.

A recycled plot

Blue McCaw Blu is torn from his tropical home and finds a new one with sweet, bookish Linda. Until eccentric ornithologist Tulio informs them that Blu is the last male of his species and convinces them to come to Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last female of his species, Jewel. Unfortunately, Jewel is more interested in flying free than mating. Then, both birds are kidnapped and must make it through greedy smugglers, a cannibalistic cockatoo, a troupe of thieving monkeys, a carnival, and host of slapstick and wisecracking sidekicks.

Predictability is a staple

Linda is mousy at the beginning so of course she breaks out of her shell; Blu cannot fly so of course he can by the end; Blu and Jewel don’t get along so of course they fall in love. If any of these characters journeys were honestly and organically explored then the movie would have been worthwhile, but Rio was just a series of subplots chained together (like the leads).

A waste of star power

Another money-making technique employed by Blue Sky was casting a number of celebrity voice talents. Jesse Eisinberg plays Blu as a standard adorkable misfit, which is a role he has perfected and personifies. This is disappointing because we know he is capable of going beyond this as seen in his brilliant performance in The Social Network which was subtle, shaded and powerful.

Anne Hathaway as Jewel tries too hard and one is reminded of the Oscars where she did the same. Leslie Mann is cute but her character Linda is disposable. The singing sidekicks Nico and Pedro are voiced somewhat annoyingly by Jamie Fox and Will I Am. Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch have small cameos as geese. George Lopez is henpecked toucan Rafael and Tracy Morgan voices drooling dog Luis.

There is nothing to actively dislike about Rio, but there is nothing to love either.
Hala Syed A designer for a multi-brand retail store in Karachi.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Maleeha Khan | 12 years ago | Reply Ahan .... m agreeed but its a good time pass for kids not too bad!
Hala | 12 years ago | Reply @anisa: You should try watching small independent films. Main stream cinema tends to be bland and safe just so that it can appeal to larger audiences therefore sacrificing all originality and innovation.
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