Sunday, August 14, 2011


I couldn't get the Flower to go see Rio with me, but after it had been playing for four months, the Barb realized she hadn't had any popcorn lately and when she pressured me into taking her to see something, Rio was still playing.

For a movie that's been playing for four months, I expected better.

It's not bad. It's even good. Just not very good. Not very anything, even. The animation is good, of course, but nothing spectacular. Actually, the animation is probably the strongest part: It has a nice subtlety to it (except for an early scene where the girl's hair is blowing in the wind the way nobody's hair blows except in cartoons).

The story is pretty strong, too. A cerulean macaw is transported to Minnesota where its found by a nebbishy young girl who raises it for the next fifteen years. As an adult, a Brazilian ornithologist comes to her bookstore and says that Blu (the macaw) is almost the last of his kind, and that he needs to mate with the last female to keep the species going.

Linda, the bookish girl (Leslie Mann), is not thrilled with this idea, and neither is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), who is just as nebbishy and domesticated as his owner. They're even less thrilled when the female macaw Jewel (Anne Hathaway) is a feral, unfriendly creature focused on escape.

The birds are immediately captured by smugglers and this leads to a kind of buddy picture with Blu and Jewel trying to find their way to freedom.

So. Cute.

But not that cute. Not in the sense of, say, Despicable Me, which was in danger of being too cute (but pulled back). It's also not that clever like, say, a Ratatouille. It has a passel of animal characters voiced by celebrities that are instantly forgettable. Even now, I know there was a fat bird and a skinny bird and a toucan, but I couldn't tell one from the other.

This movie takes stunt casting to the extreme. Eisenberg and Hathaway could've been Cera and Bynes or Mintz-Plasse and Gomez. In fact, I kind of think maybe they wanted Cera, because Eisenberg sounds like he's doing a nicer, wimpier version of the character he usually plays. Jane Lynch and Wanda Sykes are in here as a couple of geese--for one 30 second scene.

It's, like, why?

The one truly standout voice is done by Jemaine Clement of Flight of the Conchords.

Amidst the passel of forgettable characters are a few desultory musical numbers. I don't even remember how many. You're not going to be whistling tunes from this after leaving the theater. I was actually forgetting the songs as they were being sung. Which was sort of disturbing in a Memento way.

At one point, Blu has a tantrum and says he hates samba because it all sounds alike. Yeah. Well, at least in this movie?

The score by John Powell overall is actually good, though, as is the song he co-wrote with Powell and performed as the movie's villain. But it's an expository character piece that is never again referenced in the rest of the film.

You can do this sort of thing and still be very successful if you pull it out in some other fashion: Being very funny for example (nope) or having a lot of thrilling, suspenseful moments (better).

One of the things I've noticed lately is that animators will take an idea from a Pixar flick and run with it in such a way that it works on a new level. For example, the minions of Despicable Me are very reminiscent of the green alien dudes of the Toy Story series. (Their intonations, their tendency to do things en masse, etc.) But Despicable Me takes it to a higher level, imbuing the minions with individual personalities and basically providing fodder for humor whenever things threaten to get too slow or serious.

The penguins from Madagascar are—well, I can't remember where they're derived from, but I remember thinking how cliché they were at the time, but they also provide a lot of interest for an otherwise plain movie. (Though the rather original King Julian and his entourage are significant.)

This movie has a monkey crew reminiscent of the penguins, but they're bad guys. So they're not very funny and they're kind of creepy, and they don't have any personality.

There are other weird things, too. George Lopez plays a family-man toucan (I think) who uses the macaw's predicament to get out of the metaphorical house, but later on lectures to Blu on how he's going back to his family rather than enjoying Carnival.

Why? Was that something Blu needed to learn? Was Blu in danger of turning to a life of fleeting carnal pleasures? Blu can't even make it with the last female (cerulean macaw) on earth!

You put enough of these things together and it comes out like mush.

But again, the core parts (story, animation, voice acting) are all solid, just never really taking flight (ironically, wah-wah).

When I asked the Barb if she liked it, she said "Of course!" (And aren't you a moron for asking?)

"So, it was good?"
No dignifying that with a response.
"Did you have a favorite part?"
"Well, what was it?"
"When Blu was a baby."

OK, so she liked the first 3 minutes. And the popcorn. I dunno. You figure it out. Can't wait till she's a teenager.

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