It’s been a somewhat underwhelming year for animation thus far. Following a strong lineup in 2010 (with the best releases including Pixar’s Toy Story 3 and Sylvain Chomet’s ;The Illusionist), only Gore Verbinski’s well-researched, well-executed Rango (2011) and the rerelease of Disney’s The Lion King (1994) have turned heads. Carlos Saldanha’s sweet-natured Rio (2011) falls into a large category of also-rans that have failed to ignite the UK box office, despite a strong voice cast including Jess Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway. We follow the story of Blu (Eisenberg), a macaw that’s captured and shipped from his nest in Rio de Janeiro to the colder climes of Canada.
Here, Blu is acquired by a kindly bookshop owner. Despite this traumatic event, Blu quickly settles in to his new surroundings, effortlessly moving from shelf to perch without ever utilising the gift of flight. However, Blu’s happy domestic lifestyle is soon irrevocably altered after a Brazilian ornithologist discovers Blu, he is suddenly whisked back to Rio in order to mate with a female macaw and help bring his ailing species back from the brink of extinction. Back on is home turf – and with the encouragement of Hathaway’s feisty Jewel – Blu soon begins to yearn for a jungle life and the two make a break for freedom, whilst avoiding the clutches of greedy animal smuggler Marcel (Carlos Ponce) and his cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clement).
Saldanha has clearly put a lot of time and effort into realising his own personal vision of home city Rio, with Copacabana, Ipanema, the iconic Sugar Loaf and even the favelas depicted with a fine blend of accuracy and impressionism. Young children will find much to enjoy throughout Rio, but it just falls short of really impressing. Eisenberg is neurotic as ever in the lead role, and Hathaway is perfectly cast as the domineering (and dominant) Jewel, yet your still left with the nagging feeling that you’ve seen this all before (if you’ve seen any of Pixar’s back catalogue, then you more than probably have – just better).