Making the Grades
Following his socially awkward roles in Zombieland and The Social Network, Jesse Esienbery voices another nerdy male in the animated movie Rio. His character is a blue Brazilian macaw named Blu who, through a series of unforeseen events, ends up in the wintry town of Moose Lake, Minnesota. There the former jungle chick becomes so domesticated he brushes his "teeth" and drinks hot chocolate.
Linda (voice by Leslie Mann), his owner, is a timid, bespectacled bookstore owner who has never journeyed far from the snowy community where she lives. Blu is equally academic, and apprehensive. The twosome’s regimented daily routine is upset one day when a tall, dark stranger slips and slides into the shop. Tulio (voice by Rodrigo Santoro), an ornithologist, runs a bird sanctuary in the lush city of Rio de Janerio. He has the last surviving female blue macaw in his facility and would like to introduce her to Blu. Though it takes some persuasion and outright pleading from the bird-loving Tulio, Linda finally agrees to head south with her beloved pet.
Having never seen one of his own kind before, Blu is enthralled when he first meets Jewel (voice by Anne Hathaway). But his clumsy attempts at wooing (that include some mild, veiled innuendo) are instantly rejected. This feisty female isn’t at all interested in a romantic liaison. She just wants to get out of the enclosure and back to the jungle.
Unfortunately things don’t improve when they are kidnapped and sold to an illegal exotic bird dealer (voice by Carlos Ponce). Chained together at the ankle, their chances for a successful jailbreak are hampered by one little complication—Blu doesn’t know how to fly. Forced to walk everywhere, the pair battles while trying to break their leg irons before the bird dealer and his crazy, evil cockatoo (voice by Jemaine Clement) spot them.
Rio is surprising in a couple of ways. Unlike many other animated films, this script doesn’t slip in a lot of adult-oriented jokes. While that’s great for family audiences, some parents may have a harder time engaging in the simple story. Still this visually vibrant production with its sanitized depiction of Brazil’s colorful and celebrated Carnival offers amazing portrayals of the birds and their surroundings. These are further enhanced in some theaters by the 3D effects. A host of lively musical interludes, reminiscent of movies like Beauty and the Beast, also bulk up this movie’s runtime.
Some very young viewers, however, may be bothered by the repeated peril Blu and Jewel find themselves in, including being chased by a drooling bulldog (voice by Tracy Morgan). Another bird is sucked into the rotating propeller of a plane. (Audience members who wait to watch the credits roll will discover the villainous fowl survived, making it easier for filmmakers who may want to bring their characters back for a sequel.)
While the storyline feels weak at times, Rio couples that all-important kids’ message about believing in yourself with a handful of one-liners that help liven things up. It also dishes up a feel good lesson about trying new things—something adults may benefit from as well.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Rio.
Do you think people should be allowed to have exotic birds or other animals for pets?
What regulations should be in place for these kinds of pets?
How do Blu and Jewel differ in their approaches to solving problems? What do they learn from each other?