I like animals. We have had dozens of cats in our lives, several dogs, numerous rats, mice, hamsters and even a snake who lived with us for twelve years. Despite this,I have never owned a bird. My Dad had doves for the magic act but I never thought of them as pets. There have been many times I’ve encountered someone out in the public with a macaw or parrot on their shoulder and I thought it was cute but I don’t know how anyone can bond with a bird. My guess is that it takes a special person and the right bird to make this connection. This movie sets up with exactly such a premise. A little girl finds a baby macaw and they grow together so that they are one another s favorite in the world. I have had that relationship with one cat and one dog,both of which I lost far too quickly. The emotional attachment we have for our animal friends can be as strong as any relationship we ever develop. I was surprised at how easy it was for me to accept the featured relationship in the movie so quickly, but it comes down to understanding how a pet can actually feel like a soul mate.

This is a charming kids movie with a warm human-animal relationship at it’s core. The two friends get separated but in the process learn that there are other connections that can be just as rewarding. Don’t think too hard on it, because that is as deep as it goes. Most of the story concerns slap stick action sequences and the traditional attempt to overcome the bad guys. It is all strung together with a variety of samba/salsa/South American music and it goes down like candy. The only knock I have is that it is not Pixar quality storytelling. Birds have been featured in other movies, and are even the stars in a couple I can think of, but they have never been displayed in the way they are here.

Several musical sequences involve tropical birds flying in unison, choreographed with an eye on the coordination of the colors. Yes, the colors deserve a special mention because this move pops with them. Although the colors are bright and cover a wide spectrum, they are not harsh the way the images from “Speed Racer” were a couple of years ago. This is a warm combination that while dazzling, still has a tone of the natural world to it. There are songs that go with the sequences, but I don’t remember the lyrics distinctly. It may be that the musical form is just not familiar enough to me, or it could be that the music was a lot more enjoyable than the words. The city of Rio is also a lot more appealing here than in any movie I have seen with actual photography of the locations. The vistas are more in depth and again the colors more dramatic. Had I ever been to Rio, I imagine this is the way the memory would play in my head.

After the first act of the movie, our hero “Blu” is separated from his human friend and gets involved with a wide variety of other characters. A long section of the movie plays like an updated version of “The Defiant Ones”, only with romance and birds instead of grit and Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier. It will be quite satisfying to the kids you take with you. The fish out of water story works much better here than it did in “Hop” but not really up to the standard set by “Rango”. Based on that last sentence you might think I am 11, since three of the films that I’ve seen this year are animated faire for children. I like animation a lot, but it needs to serve the characters and the story, and for the most part “Rio” fits the bill. (That’s a toucan joke for those of you who did not get it)

Jesse Eisenberg, from the “Social Network”, does the voice work for our hero. Every other voice in the film is fine but not particularly distinctive. If you look at the credits you will see a long list of well know actors in the cast. Almost all of them are interchangeable with some other “man/woman/ethnic” voice. Eisenberg though is the unique and most valuable voice because of what it says about his character. There is anxiety, innocence, naivete and hope all coming out of the voice. It is a lot more than a Woody Allen reference, because although he can be funny, Allen has never left me with a sense of warmth like this character voice did. Those are the kinds of things you need to get right to make an animated film work.

So, let’s put it in a nutshell. Animals, animation, color and character make the movie a winner. I don’t expect it to be remembered on the shelf with the great Disney films or Pixar masterpieces. It is a solid effort that does not leave an audience disappointed that they spent their time and money on it. By the way, we did not see it in 3-D so all of these positive comments apply for a standard version of the movie. If the 3-D is any good, the musical sequences should kick it up a notch or two. Have a nice time.

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