It doesn't take four minutes for Rio to set itself apart from all the Ice Age movies that the animators at Blue Sky made before it. A rain forest is full of parrots, macaws, cockatoos and toucans that sing and dance the samba in a flying delirium of color.
Then the poachers show up.
Comical, colorful, wonderfully cast and beautifully animated, Rio is the first Blue Sky movie that could be compared to the best of Pixar. It weighs weighty subjects with a light touch, embraces the music of the culture it visits and delivers delights like few cartoons this side of the Golden Age of Disney.
This is an adventure comedy about endangered species set to a rump-shaking beat.
Blu, given a witty, nervous, nerdy voice by Jesse Eisenberg, was nabbed during the bird-napping expedition in the opening. He tumbles into the hands of little Linda, and they grow up in Moose Lake, Minn., devoted to each other.
Fifteen years later, a goofy scientist (Rodrigo Santoro) talks shy, homebody Linda (Leslie Mann) into bringing Blu to Rio de Janeiro. Blu is the last male cerulean blue macaw, and there's a female blue macaw who has to be his Miss Right. Of course, the spunky, jungle-savvy Jewel (Anne Hathaway) wants nothing from Blu but his help escaping. That's tricky, because he never learned to fly. And he doesn't get her mania for freedom.
"I wouldn't expect a pet to understand," she hisses.
And then they're poached, again, by thieves with a wicked pet cockatoo (a perfect Jemaine Clement). The macaws will have to learn to work together. And they'll need the help of a friendly, henpecked toucan (George Lopez); a couple of streetwise, crooning, rapping songbirds (Jamie Foxx, will. i. am); and a daffy bulldog (Tracy Morgan).
All this happens during Carnival, Brazil's nationwide party of costumed parades, an orgy of glitter and song. The film showcases, in dazzling animated digital 3-D, the glories of Rio and this festival.
Native Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha might have earned his bones with those obscenely successful Ice Age movies, but give him a project close to his heart — he co-scripted this — and the movie sings. Literally. Sergio Mendes consulted on the music, and in assorted sambas and the insertion of The Girl From Ipanema to the bossa nova beat of other tunes, it shows.
"I poop on people," Clement croons in a song he wrote, "and blame it on the seagulls."
There isn't a bad voice in the mix. And giving somebody with Lopez's timing the job of getting the two non-lovebirds together pays off.
The songs themselves don't compare with Disney's best, even Clement's wickedly funny Pretty Bird.
But Rio is such a delight, so much better than any animated movie we've seen this year, that you won't mind the 3-D premium prices, you won't hate that your children want to watch the Blu-Ray over and over again when it comes out on video, and you won't dread the compulsion they'll feel to do sequels — lots of sequels — and probably spoil it as they do.