96 minutes

Fox-affiliated animation studio Blue Sky doesn't get half the attention of bigger-profile competitors Pixar and Dreamworks, but it's our loss, not theirs. Chris Wedge's outfit has quietly become an underrated performer in the family-friendly stakes since their crowd-pleasing start with the first of the three Ice Age films (a series that has grown in stature with each new instalment). Blue Sky's output has been consistently solid, no-nonsense fare that strikes a middle course between Pixar's organic, handcrafted storytelling and Dreamworks' high-concept wisecracking comedies, and Rio is their strongest entry so far, a classic fish-out-of-water tale that overcomes its standard cookie-cutter plot through careful attention to detail.
Here the fish out of water is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), a Spix's macaw poached at an early age from his native Brazil and stranded in Minnesota, transplanted back to Rio de Janeiro to mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the lone surviving female of his kind, to ensure the species goes on. But Blu is a sort of "40-year-old virgin" suddenly thrust out into a big bad world, with predictably funny results. Blue Sky stalwart Carlos Saldanha, himself a Brazilian, steered the project to fruition through a number of years, simultaneously embracing and dodging all the stereotypes we associate with his native country (samba, soccer, carnival), working in a smart conservationist/ecological agenda and a classic screwball comedy tempo in the feistily voiced Blu/Jewel give-and-take. The stunning opener, a riotous homage to Busby Berkeley entirely choreographed by exotic birds, is such a standout Rio only intermittently returns to such superb heights, but there's a lot to enjoy in what comes next, not least a perfectly-pitched turn from Flight of the Conchords' Jemaine Clement as the dastardly villain Nigel (a former TV star cockatoo fallen on hard times). It's highly unlikely you'll look at Blue Sky again as also-rans after this.

With the voices of Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jemaine Clement, Leslie Mann, Tracy Morgan,, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez; and Jamie Foxx.
Directed by Carlos Saldanha; produced by Bruce Anderson, John C. Donkin; screenplay by Don Rhymer, Joshua Sternin, Jeffrey Ventimilia and Sam Harper, based on a story by mr. Saldanha, Earl Richey Jones and Todd Jones; music by John Powell; cinematography (DeLuxe, widescreen, 3D), Renato Falcão; art director, Thomas Cardone; film editor, Harry Hitner.
A Twentieth Century-Fox Animation presentation of a Blue Sky Studios production. (US distributor and world sales, Twentieth Century-Fox.)
Screened: distributor advance press screening, UCI El Corte Inglés 9 (Lisbon), April 4th 2011. 


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