Rio: Fly, but not too high

Published: April 30, 2011

Rio cannot be classified as boring because a lot is going on. Nothing meaningful, but a lot nonetheless.

Pixar has spoiled me. Because, this studio continuously raises its own bar, I have come to associate digitally animated films with well written characters, poignant, heartfelt dialogue and nuanced story telling.

Perhaps I should lower my standards, because Rio does not measure up. It is not a family movie that appeals to children and adults on different levels. It is a movie for children and as such it’s not bad.

Watching this movie in the theatre was fairly enjoyable. The bright colors, 3D effects, caramel popcorn and people passing out Rio cookies (what a clever advertising campaign that just fell in to their laps) all combined to ensure a pleasant movie going experience.

But are ‘pleasant’ and ‘not bad’ really the adjectives to which movie makers should aspire?

For a movie ostensibly about learning to fly, Rio stays surprisingly close to the ground. Everything about it is familiar, predictable and recycled and therefore forgettable. While this might be a selling point for a lot of moviegoers, I find safe and cute somewhat offensive. Bad movies are forgivable when they try to achieve something and fail. But, what can be said about a mediocre movie that aims to be just that – mediocre?

The people at Blue Sky Studios (who gave us the equally amusing but unoriginal Ice Age series) were not trying to tell a story or add something new into the world. All they wanted to do was make a movie kids would go to once. There is about one movie made for children every other month and so bright, bouncy and fun are the only criteria needed to succeed at the box office. Parents have to take their children to Rio because there are no alternatives. But why should they pay for a movie they will not enjoy?

It’s this lazy attitude which rubs me the wrong way, almost as if they are saying

“We have the formula; we know it’ll get people in the seats, why should we make an effort to do better?”

********* Seen it before (and usually done better) **********

Plot related
1. Last of their species so they better procreate. Ice Age: The Meltdown
Alpha and Omega
2. Overprotective parent searching for their lost child (here pet) in process learning to be less cautions Finding Nemo
3. Domesticated animal trying to make it in the wild. Madagascar

4. Nerd love- Linda and Tulio. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
5. Hate each other at first but bickering actually means they’re totally in love – Blu and Jewel. Every rom-com ever.

6. Talking animals in exotic locations, making friends from faraway lands. Up

1. Two silly fast talking sidekicks – Nico and Pedro. Timon and Pumba from The Lion King
Lumiere and Cogsworth from Beauty and the Beast
2. Evil pet bird – Nigel. Iago from Aladdin
3. Spunky girl, who when she first meets the romantic hero doesn’t like him because she’s better than him in most ways (she later settles)-Jewel. Megara from Hercules

Esmeralda from Hunchback of Notre Dame

Eve from Wall-E

Astrid from How to train a dragon
4. Evil poachers. Clayton from Tarzan
Charles Muntz from Up
5. Lost pet finally seeing the world on his own. Bolt
6. Socially inept protagonist – Blu. How to Train Your Dragon
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Beauty and the Beast
Linguini from Ratatouille
Actual scenes
1. Sidekicks playing matchmaker create mood music (happens twice). “Kiss the girl” from The Little Mermaid

2. Little girl finds displaced animal, vows to take care of it, scene jumps forward however many years. Bolt

3. Chained together. Defiant Ones
Who Framed Roger Rabbit
The Bounty Hunter
4. Villain sings about what he does and how he enjoys being a villain – Nigel. All Disney Movies. most notably:

Ursula from Little Mermaid
Mother Knows Best from Tangled
Scar from Lion King

Although it bored me, Rio cannot be classified as boring because a lot is going on. Nothing meaningful, but a lot nonetheless.

A recycled plot

Blue McCaw Blu is torn from his tropical home and finds a new one with sweet, bookish Linda. Until eccentric ornithologist Tulio informs them that Blu is the last male of his species and convinces them to come to Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last female of his species, Jewel. Unfortunately, Jewel is more interested in flying free than mating. Then, both birds are kidnapped and must make it through greedy smugglers, a cannibalistic cockatoo, a troupe of thieving monkeys, a carnival, and host of slapstick and wisecracking sidekicks.

Predictability is a staple

Linda is mousy at the beginning so of course she breaks out of her shell; Blu cannot fly so of course he can by the end; Blu and Jewel don’t get along so of course they fall in love. If any of these characters journeys were honestly and organically explored then the movie would have been worthwhile, but Rio was just a series of subplots chained together (like the leads).

A waste of star power

Another money-making technique employed by Blue Sky was casting a number of celebrity voice talents. Jesse Eisinberg plays Blu as a standard adorkable misfit, which is a role he has perfected and personifies. This is disappointing because we know he is capable of going beyond this as seen in his brilliant performance in The Social Network which was subtle, shaded and powerful.

Anne Hathaway as Jewel tries too hard and one is reminded of the Oscars where she did the same. Leslie Mann is cute but her character Linda is disposable. The singing sidekicks Nico and Pedro are voiced somewhat annoyingly by Jamie Fox and Will I Am. Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch have small cameos as geese. George Lopez is henpecked toucan Rafael and Tracy Morgan voices drooling dog Luis.

There is nothing to actively dislike about Rio, but there is nothing to love either.


Hala Syed

A designer for a multi-brand retail store in Karachi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ibrahim

    Such a well written review. You did your homework, and how! I may not go to see this movie, but still, reading your review was a delight! Well done, lass.Recommend

  • Abu Bakr Agha

    Hmm have you played angry birds? Everyone here in Chicago thought it was pretty good. Haven’t seen it myself though. Will keep this in mind.Recommend

  • Hamza

    I agree. I think the movie is highly over rated. Turned out to be a major disappointment for me.Recommend

  • parvez

    I asked my 6 and 5 year old sounding boards, how was it and they just made faces.
    So I suppose your write up is spot on. Recommend

  • Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    I watched Rio and enjoyed the movie. Probably because I needed to take my mind off with all the political circus acts that were giving me a headache. Also the setting was nice, showing Rio city which is also explored in the Fast Five.
    I also agree with you about the plots continuously repeating. It is nothing new, same is happening with movies where predictable plots, characters and storyline is found in every other title. In fact, the people have become so attuned that they need to watch movies like “Inception” multiple times in order to understand what actually happened.Recommend

  • Sophia Hasnain

    You must have a lot of free time to be able to write such a detailed piece on a movie you didn’t enjoy watching…
    Plus this doesn’t make any sense: “There is about one movie made for children every other month and so bright, bouncy and fun are the only criteria needed to succeed at the box office.”Recommend

  • Fareen Effendi

    Thoroughly enjoyed this review — very well written!
    Thanks — oh! You were bang on with every point.


  • Hala


  • Hala

    i thought i didn’t enjoy it because the movie was aimed at children
    if even children didn’t like it, it really is a failure Recommend

  • Aaliya

    Extremely well-written. To be honest I won’t say I didn’t enjoy the movie….I did, but because it was all cute and colourful and the songs were nice…..but that’s it. There was nothing more to it. The only character which is actually funny was the yellow canary and all the other characters were seen in other movies, so I totally agree with u and really enjoyed this review.Recommend

  • anisa

    After watching suckerpunch and room mate and being thoroughly dissapointed by it , I was going to watch rio – but after reading this review and the comments that followed… I guess I will not
    I wonder where all the innovation from cinema has gone
    On the other hand, a very well written piece by ms syed – hope to read more of her reviewsRecommend

  • Hala

    @Sophia Hasnain:

    What does detail have to do with enjoying watching the movie. Reviews would be pointless if they consist of “i didn’t like it. the end” or “it was good. thats all” I hope this review helped people decide whether or not they should watch this movie. For example someone who likes bright colorful thngs should, and someone who is looking for more depth in their entertainment should not. I believe we should have good reasons for liking or disliking something.

    As for the part you quoted, i just meant that there are so few movies for children that as long as it seems fun, parents will take their children to see it for lack of options.Recommend

  • Hala

    we seem to have roughly the same feelings about the movie. glad you liked the review :)Recommend

  • shehryar

    exceptionally well written review.

    after the intense (and well-researched) grilling u’v subjected it to, it would be difficult to argue for the case of originality. :-)

    all i will say in its defense (since i liked it) is this: just because u’v tasted chocolate a thousand times before, doesn’t mean u won’t like it for the 1001st time. :-DRecommend

  • Hala

    You should try watching small independent films. Main stream cinema tends to be bland and safe just so that it can appeal to larger audiences therefore sacrificing all originality and innovation.Recommend

  • Maleeha Khan

    Ahan …. m agreeed but its a good time pass for kids not too bad!Recommend