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Posted on April 14, 2011
Motion multiplies emotion in “Rio,” a 3-D animated feature from Blue Sky Studios, the company that gave us the “Ice Age” series. Seldom has a film been so endearingly besotted by the possibilities of flyingit’s about birdsdancing the samba or hell-for-feather chasing around the skies, boulevards, back alleys and favelas of Rio de Janeiro. (While the director, Carlos Saldanha, is Brazilian, some of the scruffier citizens of this Rio have Mexican accents.) For a change the 3-D process is indispensable: it heightens as well as deepens the kinetic experience. So is the color palette, whose ceruleans, yellows and crimsons do for the eyes what Tabasco sauce does for the tongue. The production eventually succumbs to motion overloadso many characters darting off in so many directions that the ending turns unfocused, even flat. But watching them go by is great fun, and there are worse things than a movie that can’t stop moving.
Watch a clip from the film “Rio,” courtesy 20TH Century Fox.
The birds at the center of the action are a pair of blue macaws voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway; both performances make the most of witty material. Blu’s hue is deeper than Jewel’s, but he’s still a pale excuse for a confident male, and their first encounter is far from love at first flight, since Blu doesn’t know how to fly. He’s been so thoroughly domesticated by his loving owner, Linda (Leslie Mann) that he studies aerodynamics in his cage, yet continues to walk around their cozy home in Minnesota until a Brazilian ornithologist named Tulio comes out of nowhere and proposes mating him with the street-smart, high-flying Jewel in Rio to save the macaw species. (The script puts wit far ahead of logic, although Mr. Saldanha and his co-writer, Don Rhymer, had the bright comedic idea of shackling Blu and Jewel together, like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones,” after they’re captured by rare-bird smugglers.)
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Courtesy of Blue Sky Studios
Pedro the cardinal, center, Rafael the toucan and Nico the canary with macaws Blu, left, and Jewel in ‘Rio.’
With memories of “Saludos Amigos,” “Black Orpheus” and Carmen Miranda swirling in my brain, I wondered if someone would show up wearing a tropical-fruit headdress, and, sure enough, someone dida bulldog, Luiz, whose slobber dangles from his mouth like misplaced pendant earrings. “Rio” is densely populated by antic creatures, among them a swarm of thieving marmosets, a toucan named Rafael and a villainous Aussie cockatoo, Nigel, who is voiced by Jemaine Clement, of “Flight of the Conchords,” and who serves as a sort of bulldog to a smuggler with the black heart of a Bill Sykes. Nigel has a sensational number in which he reveals himself to be an ex-soap opera star who is still embittered by having lost a role to a prettier bird. His song also comes out of nowhere, and sets up expectations for more of the same. But no, it’s a one-off flourish in a movie that can’t be concerned with consistency. Watching “Rio” means living happily in the moment.
‘Atlas Shrugged: Part I’
I wanted to give this movie a fair shake, though I can’t pretend to be an admirer of Ayn Rand’s writing. But the movie, the first installment of a projected trilogy, doesn’t give the book a fair shake. In terms of craftsmanship it’s barely professional, except for Taylor Schilling’s tightly focused performance as Dagny Taggart, the heroine trying to keep her railroad company from being destroyed by a government that’s hostile to individual achievement.
The book was published in 1957, yet the clumsiness of this production makes it seem antediluvian, even though the story has been shifted to a near future when gasoline is $37.50 a gallon, the capitalist system is in ruins and gifted people who might save it are mysteriously vanishing, leaving only the mediocrities Rand detested. If ever there was an effective way to bring this sprawling, didactic material to the screenKing Vidor’s 1949 version of “The Fountainhead” was enjoyable for its extravagant stylethe director, Paul Johansson, and the writers, John Aglialoro and Brian Patrick O’Toole, haven’t found it. Don’t hold your breath for parts 2 and 3.
Mary Surratt, the first woman executed by the U.S. government, was convicted of conspiracy in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In this courtroom drama, adapted by James D. Solomon from the trial transcripts, she’s played by Robin Wright with a look of glazed rectitude that was once the exclusive province of Anne Revere. It isn’t her fault, though. Like most other members of an excellent cast that includes James McAvoy, Kevin Kline and Tom Wilkinson, she has come under the deadening directorial hand of Robert Redford. “The Conspirator” suggests that Mary was punished for crimes committed by her son. It also suggests a parallel between Mary’s plightshe was tried in a military tribunal rather than a civil courtand the plight of the Guantanamo prisoners. What it most suggests, though, is the sort of classroom film that has kept generations of students off the edge of their seats.
Write to Joe Morgenstern at firstname.lastname@example.org