The Romance and Danger of 'Rio'

If the birds aren't precisely "of a feather," as they suggest, they are bright and loud and alike enough to establish that this Rio is not real in any way.


Director: Carlos Saldanha
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez, Jamie Foxx,, Tracy Morgan, Jemaine Clement
Rated: PG
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Year: 2011
US date: 2011-04-15 (General release)
UK date: 2011-04-08 (General release)

"Get up and join in the fun," sing a lot of birds at the start of Rio. The frame roams over a 3D-animated approximation of a Brazilian jungle, and the colorful creatures all join in the same lyrics: "Dance with a stranger, romance and danger, / Magic could happen for real, in Rio!" If these assorted birds aren't precisely "of a feather," as they suggest, they are bright and loud and alike enough to establish that this Rio is not real in any way.

And so what else is new? Nothing much in Rio. With a plot and characterizations drawn from elsewhere, the movie begins with a typical trauma lite: one of the happy-happy birds, a baby blue macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), is kidnapped and shipped off to snowy Minnesota (helpfully identified in a subtitle as "Not Rio"). Here he's rescued by a very nice little girl named Linda (child's voice by Sofia Scarpa Saldanha, adult's by Leslie Mann), who names him Blu and keeps him through her childhood and college and into her career as a bookstore owner. As this life history is managed in montage of framed photos showing the pair as if they're siblings -- at a spelling bee, dressed for prom, at graduation -- you gather that each might do well to meet someone of his or her "feather," that is, a companion of the same species. Not to worry: this is precisely what the film has in mind.

As cozy as Blu and Linda seem inside their bookstore with the apartment above, their lives are turned upside down when a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) drops by to inform them that Blu is the last of his kind. Not only that, but Tulio happens to have a female blue macaw, named Jewel (Anne Hathaway) back in Rio de Janeiro, just waiting to mate with Blu so they can "preserve their species."

Predictably, the trip doesn’t go as planned. First, Jewel is put off by the nerdy and fretful Blu, and second, the two birds end up stolen from the lab by exotic-animal traffickers. At this point they're also chained together, which irks Jewel to no end, mostly due to the fact that Blu never learned to fly in Minnesota and so, even when they do have a chance to escape -- which they do -- they have to walk.

All this walking gives them time to argue, like the couples in The Princess and the Frog, the first Shrek, It Happened One Night, and oh yes, Ice Age, also directed by Carlos Saldanha. As Jewel fumes and Blu fusses (and sounds a lot like Woody Allen), they're joined by supporting players, other birds who do their darnedest to ensure the romance happens, offering Blu advice and arranging for the macaws to have some alone-ish time. Most of these moments devolve quickly into declarations of differences: Blue wants to return to Linda (read: domestication), and Jewel wants to soar free in the big blue Brazilian skies.

Still, they're destined to be together, and so they are pitted against villains who will help them realize that, including a gnarly cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and the-oh-so-insidiously goateed human smuggler Marcel (Carlos Ponce). While the good birds (voiced by Jamie Foxx,, and George Lopez) are pretty much as dull as can be (especially their songs), the villains are strangely strange. Not only does Nigel have a grim backstory (revealed in a series of telenovela-like flashbacks during a song, it turns out he used to be a famous TV star, and resents his current abjection), he's also a cannibal (he tears into a chicken leg with notable ferocity). And not only are Marcel's human henchmen dopy and slow, but they're also thrilled when Carnaval comes and they have to put on very short shorts with silver sequins, "to fit in."

The Carnaval parade would seem to be Rio's big moment, the event that makes it unlike every other kids' movie with this plot, that marks its sensational place and stages that time when "Magic could happen for real, in Rio." Again, the film backs off. While the smugglers and Linda and Tulio and even a slobbery bulldog voiced by Tracy Morgan all put on sequins, masks, and feathers and shake their booties, the plot doesn’t deviate from exactly where you know it will go, when humans and birds paired up properly -- and heterosexually.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.