If a macaw and his owner repeatedly sharing fist bumps and a bulldog talking about getting his “freak on” is your idea of cleverness and creativity, then prepare to be thoroughly entertained by Rio. I was bored, and embarrassed.
I’m being hard on Rio because of Pixar, of course, as well as DreamWorks’ better efforts (not to mention the animated delights coming out of Europe and Japan). We’re no longer in an age of “good-enough” kids flicks; we’re in an age of animation as a viable art form. Rio, a collection of bright colors and dated pop-culture references, sets things back.
The movie centers on Blu, a macaw who is kidnapped from the jungles of Brazil as a tiny bird, raised in Minnesota as a beloved pet, then taken back to South America to mate with a fellow endangered macaw, where both he and she are kidnapped again. This all rushes by in the first 20 minutes or so; the rest of the movie is essentially a chase scene, with occasional pauses for the animals to sing and dance.
Admittedly, Rio opens with an ambitious musical sequence, a Busby Berkeley number involving all the birds of the jungle. And Jemaine Clement, as a villainous cockatoo, delivers a dastardly rendition of “Pretty Bird” (which the former “Flight of the Conchords” star also wrote). Unfortunately, the rest of the soundtrack consists of the likes of “Hot Wings I Wanna Party,” a generic hip-hop track written and performed by the Black Eyed Peas’ Will i Am.
This may make me sound close-minded, but I can’t imagine any animated feature being special if it heavily relies on Will i Am, whose generic, crowd-pleasing music is the equivalent of a Happy Meal. I’ve written many times that simply because kids will like almost any movie, it doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate great ones even more. Just as Will i Am and Happy Meals underestimate the taste of their customers, Rio gives its young audience members what they’ll “like,” not what they deserve.