This latest review is of a film that, as regular blog followers will know, is one of the animated films I have been most looking forward to this year, Rio. Rio is the sixth film from Blue Sky Studios, the animation company famous for the Ice Age trilogy, however Rio is far removed from director Carlos Saldanha's more comedic Ice Age films and is a far more musical endeavour than Blue Sky Studios' previous films.
If you frequent my reviews, you will know that I firmly believe that the most important aspects of a film are its characters and its story and, furthermore, that a film is only as good as its main characters. So Rio has nothing to worry about, as its characters are great and are a testament to the film. The main characters in particular are excellent.
Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg - The Social Network), our pampered, domesticated and flightless small town male Macaw protagonist, is delightfully insecure and awkward, a combination that has aided so many films and their characters - i.e. How to Train Your Dragon's Hiccup -, this makes him instantly more relatable than if Blue Sky Studios tried to make him a suave, debonair charmer. Blu seems sweet, naive and constantly likeable and his inabilities and flaws make him seem more human, a cinematic must in anthropomorphic films like this one.
Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathway - The Princess Diaries), our female protagonist, is, rather predictably, the polar opposite of Blu, a streetwise and hardened bird, who doesn't trust anyone, a rather cliched but still effective characterisation. Jewel's lack of trust, similarly to Blu, is a very human characteristic and so makes her also seem very relatable. However, Jewel isn't as instantly likeable a character as Blu. Jewel, at first, seems overly aggressive, defencive and a bit hard edged, but I firmly believe this is for the best. Jewel acts in a manner that suggests she is always wary of people, this distrust gives an insight into the sort of background we imagine she comes from; she's suffered, this DOES work to make us empathise with her. We like Jewel, but for different reasons to why we like Blu.
Both characters are, inevitably, very likeable, however what works best is that they are both flawed, they are both missing something, so - if you'll forgive the cliche - they complete each other, this just adds an extra level to the romance of the film and the story as a whole.
However, an equally touching aspect of the film's story and its characters, is the relationship between Blu and his owner, Linda. The human characters aren't quite on the same level as the main bird characters, being slightly corny and nothing particularly interesting or groundbreaking, however the best friend dynamic between Blu and Linda is still very good. Similarly to How to Train Your Dragon, Bolt and Lilo and Stitch, such relationships between humans and animals are always touching and heart warming, it just adds another layer to the film's story, an almost parent and child dynamic. It also adds a message of not judging people by their appearances and that's always a good message to enforce.
As with Despicable Me and the Toy Story franchise, one of the best aspects of the film was its side characters. Side characters, in my opinion, are one of the most overlooked parts of a film, animated or otherwise. Would Toy Story be quite the same without Rex, Slinky, Ham et al? Not in my mind, which is why it's great to see some great side characters here in the form of the hyperactive duo of Nico and Pedro (voiced by Jamie Foxx and will.i.am respectively), both of whom have great personalities and just add some more comedic moments to the film, as any great side character should.
As I've stressed in all of my film reviews to date, another vitally important part of any film is its villain, fortunately Rio greatly benefits from this. The film's villain, Nigel, is great, he's a warped, dejected and insane Cockatoo and he just adds some threat and jeopardy to the film. Nigel is also fantastically voiced, Jemaine Clement has a fantastic voice for a villain, his voice just sounds so cynical and, well, just evil. Another great part of Nigel is his song, much like Nigel, it's wonderfully weird, the lyrics are bizarre and strange, yet toe-tapping; for an evil villain, the bird sure can sing.
On that note, I am brought to my next point; Rio is a musical and, unlike some of my gripes with Tangled, I really liked the songs. Brazilian musician Sérgio Mendes adds an air of authenticity and liveliness to Rio, all of the songs were really catchy, exciting and toe-tapping. Also, the film wasn't shoving songs down the audience's throat every 5 minutes, it was more relaxed, the songs were spaced out and when there was one, it was really good.
I'll say that, much like the Angry Birds game based on the film, this film has a feel all of itself. In addition to the great, lively music, the animation is luscious, bright and vibrant, the detail in all of the feathers and fur of the many different characters is awe inspiring. The jungle and carnival scenes in particular are brilliantly animated, it all just looks so good.
As I've previously said, the story is great. Whilst not entirely original - especially if you've seen Alpha and Omega -, a story about the last male and female of the species who are forced together to preserve their kind and escape from poachers and go on the run, bonding along the way is still entertaining and fun to watch, especially when it's combined with all the comedy in the script (none of which is TOO corny or over the top). The script is also packed with a lot of heart and is a joy to watch.
In terms of similarities with other films, as Rio is allegedly the reason that Pixar's newt (a film I desperately wanted to see) got cancelled, due to similar plot themes, I am overjoyed that Rio is as good as it is. Sure, the plot's not groundbreaking, nor is it the deepest of the deep, but it is great, the animation, the music, the general feel, in addition to some memorable characters and a touching story, all mean Rio is a winner.
In hindsight, I'd probably give Rio a slightly lower score of 8/10. What it lacks in maturity and character depth, it makes up for in fun, thrills and gorgeous animation!