A lot of passion and personal feeling clearly went into "Rio," the 3-D animated adventure from director Carlos Saldanha, who devised this story as a love letter to his Brazilian hometown.
It's strikingly gorgeous, bursting with big images and vibrant colors. And the use of 3-D, which so often feels so needless and like such an afterthought, is surprisingly effective in the hands of Saldanha (director or co-director of the "Ice Age" movies) and his team. Stuff doesn't come flinging at you in cheeky, knowing fashion — although that can be fun in its own gimmicky way sometimes — but in the flying sequences especially the chase scenes, the 3-D provides an extra thrill, an added layer of immersive oomph. Blu, a cerulean macaw who's the film's reluctant hero, hang-glides around the mountaintop Christ the Redeemer statue, and the depth of field that results is sort of awesome.
The whole film has a tremendous energy about it, not just in the way it moves but in the snappy banter and screwball antics between Jesse Eisenberg, who voices the character of Blu, and Anne Hathaway, who voices the free-spirited bird Jewel. Eisenberg works his patented halting, neurotic delivery to ideal comic effect, while Hathaway is confident, bold and impatient as the female of the species who is his destiny. They clash so convincingly, you'd think they'd recorded their scenes together. (They didn't, which is unfortunately the norm in animation performances.)
So much is so appealing for so long that you can almost forgive the fact that there's not much story here in the script from Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia and Sam Harper. (Three others, including Saldanha himself, get story-by credit.) It's essentially one long chase, with the usual romantic-comedy friction that will, of course, turn into love.
Blu, as a baby, was abducted by smugglers who raided his jungle home to sell him and other beautiful birds illegally in the United States. He ended up getting lost en route and, luckily for him, falling into the loving hands of a nerdy, small-town Minnesota girl named Linda. Over the years, the two forged an amusingly inappropriate bond, and now are enjoying a comfy, co-dependent existence. Linda (voiced as an adult by Leslie Mann) has domesticated this bird she named Blu to such an extent that he makes his own breakfast and enjoys hot cocoa with marshmallows — but he never learned to do what most birds can do, which is fly.
One day, a scientist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives to inform Linda that Blu is the only male left of his species. They must travel at once to Rio de Janeiro to allow Blu to mate with the last female of the species, Jewel. Anxious about leaving their familiar surroundings, they nonetheless make the trip.
But this first date, um, doesn't go quite as everyone hoped. Not only do Blu and Jewel not get it on, but they hate each other — and Jewel is too busy anyway planning her escape. Then they're captured by another set of smugglers, with help from a hideous and diabolical cockatoo named Nigel. Jemaine Clement of "Flight of the Conchords" voices the character with preening menace — complete with an elaborate production number — and he's a hoot.
From here, they must figure out how to break free so Blu can get back to Linda and Jewel can enjoy independence. (George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, will.i.am and Tracy Morgan lend their voices to the supporting players who help along the way.) The fact that they're chained to each other — and Blu can't fly, if you'll recall — sets up plenty of slapstick and elaborate mad dashes across slums, beaches, forests and finally the spectacle of Carnival.
Nothing deep or heavy here — just a good time and a pleasurable escape.
"Rio," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated G. Running time: 96 minutes. Three stars out of four.