Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Rio" Review

"Rio" is one for the kiddies, so you'll have to forgive this childless twenty-something for feeling at odds with the target audience. The theater was stuffed with tykes with mouths agape—whispering, screaming, and coughing. I have no idea if that means they were enjoying it. From an adult perspective, this anthropomorphic epic isn't necessarily a painful endurance test, but unlike Nickelodeon's "Rango," there isn't a single compelling reason to recommend it to anyone over the age of 12.

The voice cast is unsurprisingly stacked with actors in vogue looking to score an easy paycheck. Jesse Eisenberg channels his innermost neurosis as Blu, our fine, feathered protagonist with a fear of flying. Leslie Mann plays his owner Linda, a bookish Minnesotan who is coerced into schlepping her beloved pet to the eponymous South American city in order to have him (ahem) mate with the only known female of his kind.

If you've ever been subjected to children's programming, you may know the cadence that most of the cast adopts. Sentences delicately spill from animated lips with careful annunciation of each syllable, lest anyone fall behind. There are a couple of legitimately impressive performances, including Jemaine Clement of "Flight of the Conchords" fame as a conniving cockatoo, and Tracy Morgan from "30 Rock" as an oversensitive bulldog. Rounded out by the likes of Will i Am and Jamie Foxx, "Rio" draws from a pool of veteran vocal performers.

And if the above talent didn't tip you off, I regretfully inform you that "Rio" fancies itself a musical. Doubtless spurred by the success of "Happy Feet," every so often the characters break into exuberant song, which is even more grating than their unhurried dialogue.

The archetypical adventure plays out predictably. Blu doesn't exactly hit it off with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), his undomesticated mate—but the two are birdnapped and find love as they find their way home together. Granted, it's a proven template, but to use the oeuvre of Pixar as a counter-point, there's plenty of wiggle-room to establish identity within the stringent confines of a narrative 'sure thing.' Even when Pixar isn't pushing boundaries, its creative shepherds generally recognize the chasm that separates the kiddie crowd from general audience.

Not that there's anything wrong with catering a cartoon to children, but even under those auspices, I can only recommend "Rio" to, what, 15% of the population? Probably none of whom are reading this review. Parents have my condolences if they're dragged to this utterly uninteresting animated flick, though history is fraught with worse cinematic prison sentences.

It's hard to outright hate "Rio" given that I am almost two decades the elder of its target audience, and childless to boot. Thus, my window into its appeal is either long-since closed or not-yet open. As a fan of animation, however, I can safely assert that grown ups need not apply. If readymade heartstring pluckers like lost pets and orphans get you all gooey-eyed, maybe "Rio" will speak to you—but my sense is that most of us are calloused to such obvious emotional exploitation.

As for the twelve and unders—their reaction was tough to gauge amid the chorus of whispers, shrieks, and hacking coughs. They all pretty much sat still and watched the damn movie. That must count for something.


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