Friday, April 15, 2011

Rio [2011]

MPAA (G) CNS/USCCB (A-I) Mike Phillips (2 stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Michael Phillips review

Rio (story and directed by Brazilian-born Carlos Saldanha screenplay by Don Rhymer) is fun animated movie giving "birds eye" view of Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval time.  With Brazil becoming increastingly important on the world stage (along with India and China) it probably makes sense for Hollywood to start making more Brazil friendly/Brazil themed movies such as this.  (Indeed, Rio apparently was released in Latin America several weeks before its release in the United States on April 15th).  And the bird metaphor actually worked very, very well in presenting the color and craziness of carneval time in Rio. 

Okay, so what is the story?  Baby Blue Macaw later named Blu (voice by Jesse Eisenberg) wakes up one morning in a tropical forest outside of Rio and falls out of his nest only to be captured by bird smugglers who eventually send him to the United States.  Sometime later, he finds himself falling out of a crate in a place decidely "Not Rio" (as the movie notes) -- Moosehead, Minnesota in the winter, where a girl named Linda finds him and raises him).  And Blu is as happy as can be as Linda's companion, who even names the eventual book store that she opens after him.

Their tranquility is broken however when Tulio, an ornitologist from Brazil arrives and tells Linda that Blu is the only known male left of his entire species and that Linda must let him mate with Jewel (voice by Anne Hathaway) the only known female of Blu's species who he now has at his laboratory in Rio de Janeiro.  After initial resistance by both Linda and Blu, they decide to travel with Tulio to see if Blu and Jewel could mate.

Initially Jewel is not impressed with the nerdy Blu because he can't even fly.  However, when the two care captured once more by a small gang of bird smugglers Marcel, Tipa and Armando (voiced by Carlos Ponce, Jeffrey Garcia, Davi Vieira) and taken to their hide-out in a favela in the hills of Rio de Janeiro for sale and transport once again out of the country, they realize that they have to work together.  Their attempts at escape are aided by a family man Tucan named Rafael (voice by George Lopez) as well as two other birds Nico and Pedro (voices by Jamie Foxx and Will i Am) who try to help Blu better impress Jewel in matters of love.

The smugglers are aided by a british sounding Cockletoo named Nigel (voice by Jemaine Clement) who also recruits the city's monkeys to recapture the two Blue Macaws when they do break free.

Much happens, and a climactic part of it happens during Rio's Carneval Parade.  In the midst of their adventures Linda, who's never been outside of Minnesota (in good part, ironically, in order to take care of her bird Blu), finds that she _likes_ Rio, driving a motorbike down the windy streets of a favela "just like a snowmobile."  And "all ends well" with both sets of "love birds," avian (Blu and Jewel) and human (Linda and Tulio) living happily ever after. 

Now that is the story, yet as often is the case, there's more to Rio than simply a cute animated story about tropical birds.

First, there were several homages to recent Brazilian films that enjoyed international and critical success.  For instance, when Blu and Jewel first escape their bird smuggling captors, the scene that follows appeared to be an animated send-up to the "flight of the chicken" scene at the beginning of Cidade de Deus (City of God).  Then, more poignantly, Linda and Tulio adopt street kid Fernando, who helped them find Blu and Jewel, reminding one of the beautiful Brazilian movie (and a real tear-jerker) Central do Brazil (Central Station) about a street kid whose mom got hit by a bus in front of the central train station in Rio de Janeiro and he had absolutely no one to turn to except for a middle-aged woman who arguably had ripped him and his mother off less than 10 mintues before. 

Then Linda opens a new bookstore in Rio named "Livreria Blu" still with a picture with her beloved Blu on the storefront window but _pointedly_ (and I've known a few Brazilians who've made the point) now takes care of Fernando (a kid in need) rather than Blu (a pet), letting Blu and Jewel "live happily ever after" on their own.  Brazilians that I've known over the years have often made the point that Americans seem more concerned about animals and trees than (poor) people in need.  So, point taken and _understood_.

Finally, after several disappointing recent animated and kid oriented pictures, this is one that I've really enjoyed.  And I liked it precisely because it seemed to include everybody.  The cast was huge and diverse.  Contrast that with the recent almost bleached white Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick's Rules or Hop where British sounding Easter bunnies ruled over Hispanic sounding Easter chicks and the chief and _only_ villain was "Carlos" the foreman chick who wished to overthrow the bunnies.  What kind of a message is that to _both_ white and hispanic children? 

In this regard, it needs to be noted (and again, my only criticism of this movie would be) that there was a needlessly British sounding "villain bird" in Rio.  However, Rio did have human villains who were Brazilian (and Brazilians like Tulio and Fernando who were heroes as well).  And Brazilians that I've known have often liked to remind me that Brazil's problems are often not of its own doing but imposed from outside -- often from Britain and the U.S.A.  So in "bird brained" Nigel, there could have been a jab against Britain and the U.S.A. in this movie as well.

Still, both the casting and the plot of the story was one which gave a positive message that truly everyone belonged.  And for a Catholic, who believes in a _universal church_ (that's what Catholic means), big enbough for everybody, what a nice message.  Parabens Senhor Saldanha!

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