Rio is a fish-out-of-water animated comedy about birds -- and, as those things go, it's cute and entertaining -- but not in an aggressive or annoying way.
Instead, Blue Sky Studios, who gave us the Ice Age films and several others, keep things cheerful, witty and energetic. There's no time to stop and dissect the action when the action never stops.
Scored to an infectious samba beat, Rio is set, primarily, in Brazil where, in the prologue, a little blue macaw baby is grabbed by animal smugglers. He winds up in Minnesota -- Moose Lake, Minn., an actual place whose name was chosen for its inherent silliness -- rescued from a snow drift by a little girl when his crate bounces off a delivery truck.
The little girl's name is Linda and, in short order, she's a grown woman, running the only book store in Moose Lake (in other words, someone headed for an unemployment line) -- a single gal (voiced by Leslie Mann) whose best friend is her now-15-year-old macaw, who she's named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg).
One day, a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) wanders into their snowy realm and announces that Blu is one of the last two remaining members of his species -- and that the other, a female, has been found and is being kept at Tulio's bird sanctuary in Rio.
So Tulio convinces Linda and Blu to come to Rio, where Blu and this other bird, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), will mate and prolong the species. But almost as soon as Blu is thrown into the habitat with Jewel in Rio, the two of them are birdnapped by animal smugglers.
They escape, but not before being shackled together at the ankle with a chain. Oh, and one other thing: Having grown up in a cage, Blu has never learned to fly. So even as Blu and Jewel look for a way to break the chain that binds them, they're hindered by the fact that they cannot take to the air when danger threatens.
They eventually are joined by a couple of other birds (voiced by Jamie Foxx and will.i.am) and a toucan named Rafael (George Lopez), in their quest to get free from each other and back to their lives. But they are also being pursued by the birdnappers and their most heinous henchman, a cockatiel named Nigel (perfectly voiced by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords).
Rio follows the template for this kind of kids' film in ways that will entertain parents as well. Jewel, initially dismissive of Blu for his timidity and inability to fly, learns to appreciate his other talents. Blu, in turn, learns to loosen up and enjoy life outside his cage (he bristles when Jewel refers to him as a pet: "I'm a companion!") -- and to take the risks he needs to. Eisenberg and Hathaway have strong chemistry, even when the script by Don Rhymer goes slack, which it occasionally does (Lopez is particularly hamstrung by a lack of funny lines).
The rest of the voice talent is strong, including Clement, Foxx and will.i.am. Tracy Morgan pops up at the end as a slobbery bulldog who is a buddy of the toucan with the tools to get Blu and Jewel out of their chain.
The animation is particularly good, swooping and floating with the abandon of a winged creature, offering the kind of aerial tour of Rio that you could never otherwise get -- from the rainforest to the mountaintops, from the mountaintops to the beach, and everywhere in between.
The writing could be stronger but kids won't notice. And Rio moves at a peppy enough clip that their parents won't be distracted for long, either.
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