The vision of Rio depicted in Carlos Saldanha's film of the same name is one we haven't seen in an animated feature before, but everything else about Rio feels disappointingly familiar. The film is a beautifully designed but ultimately rote adventure in which a timid macaw bird (Jesse Eisenberg), who has been domesticated in the comfortable surroundings on Minnesota, far from the forests of Brazil in which he was born. Eisenberg's strained vocal work is well-suited to the neurotic Blu, a flightless bird quite happy to remain with his owner Linda (Leslie Mann) and completely uninterested in returning to his homeland. It is his duty to return, however, as he is the last Blue Macaw in existence, which means he'll have to mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female of his species, whether he likes it or not.
As I watched this tale unfold I thought about Newt, a Pixar project about two lizards forced to mate against their will in order to save their species. That film was cancelled last year and will now presumably never see the light of day, but I wondered how the filmmakers at Pixar would have handled their eerily similar premise – my guess is that they'd have carried it off with a lot more wit and invention than the team behind Rio have managed. The narrative here is very basic, with Jewel leading the terrified Blu out into the wilderness, where they are menaced by crooks and a villainous cockatoo (Jemaine Clement), and aided by a couple of wacky sidekicks. The problem is that all of these characters are extremely dull and blessed with only a single personality trait that they play on endlessly. The voice work (aside from Eisenberg and Clement) is mediocre and inconsistent, with Hathaway being particularly ill-suited to the role of Jewel, failing to even attempt an indigenous accent for a creature that has spent its whole life in Brazil.
It's lazy, uninspired stuff overall, with too few jokes and ideas and too many scenes of animals dancing. It feels like the filmmakers have made every effort to include everything it thinks we want from an animated film, but those elements have no sense of imagination or feeling behind them, and end up looking like token gestures. Sure, Rio looks gorgeous, but isn't that the very least we expect from a mainstream animated feature these days? Where's the excitement, daring and adventure? Rio is a stunning bird to look at, but it's too timid and uncertain of itself to ever risk stretching its wings.