Jose Solís, TheCostaRicaNews.com
Almost seventy years ago, Walt Disney introduced worldwide audiences to José Carioca – a festive parrot from Rio de Janeiro who had an eye for beautiful women and parties. Even if he essentially portrayed stereotypes of “Latin lovers,” besides his shortcomings, he became an appropriate embodiment of the joyful Carmen Miranda spirit we have learned to associate with Brazil.
As the years have gone by, Brazil has become one of the biggest economies in the world and one of the most politically progressive nations in modern history. The movies however, still depict the country as a fruit-hat wearing paradise where everyone wears thongs.
This is why Rio delivers such a refreshing, if not entirely perfect, surprise. Directed by Brazilian born Carlos Saldanha, the film combines the Brazilian clichés we’ve come to expect from Hollywood products, with a loving eye that respects traditions. The final result is a nostalgic postcard adapted to fit imprecise world visions; this filtered version of Brazil is perhaps best exemplified by the use of the legendary Sergio Mendes’ music, combined with modern beats from The Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am.
Is this globalized view of South America ideal? Perhaps not, but Rio doesn’t really worry with such complex sociological conundrums, instead it grabs a couple of familiar elements, throws them together with cute talking animals and delivers a delightfully harmless movie.
The plot centers on Blu, a rare blue macaw living in Minnesota with its owner Linda. Since Blu has been domesticated, he never learned how to fly. One day they get a visit from Túlio, a Brazilian biologist who reveals to them that Blu is the last male of his species and they would like to mate him with a female they’ve recently discovered. Blu is flown to Rio de Janeiro, on the week of carnival of course, and there he meets Jewel, the feisty female macaw he has to fall in love with. They instantly dislike each other.
When Blu and Jewel are stolen by poachers, they take part in an adventure that takes them from hate to love, from city to jungle…and along the way they learn all sorts of lessons, meet exotic characters etc. etc. etc.
While Rio cannot boast about its originality, it sure can about its beauty. Each of the characters was carefully created to resemble their real counterpart more than they do anthropomorphic versions of animals. The landscapes are spectacular and some aerial views of this digital Rio de Janeiro make you want to drop everything and move there right away.
Perhaps, the best of all is the way in which the movie sticks to reality. Rio de Janeiro isn’t shown as a prehistoric city next to a jungle, but it’s shown as a cosmopolitan city with skyscrapers, beautiful people and enviable natural surroundings. Sure, most of the “human” sequences develop in a favela, but what can you expect…
It’s also interesting to see how the movie forgoes modern references and jokes, concentrating instead on an eco-friendly message that’s accurate without being preachy. Yet, with its truly delicious samba and bossa nova score, you won’t be blamed if you find the movie more of a visual spectacle than a regular movie. By the end, the film recalls Black Orpheus’ foreign exoticism, more than The Three Caballeros’ forced openness to multi-culturality.
Despite its predictability, lack of edge and harmlessness, Rio is a rather pleasing adventure. You might have forgotten all about the story a few hours after watching it, but you’ll still be humming bossa for days to come.
Rio (3D) in theaters in Costa Rica April 8, 2011
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Producer: Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox
Cast (voices): Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez, Jemaine Clement, Jake T. Austin, Bernardo de Paula, Leslie Mann, Tracy Morgan, Will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, Rodrigo Santoro, Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, Robin Thicke, Carlos Ponce, Brian Baumgartner, Neil Patrick Harris.