Andy Bockelman: ‘Rio’ flies a little too close to the sun

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Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

'Rio'

2.5 out of 4 stars

96 minutes

Starring the voices of: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, George Lopez and Jemaine Clement.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

After seeing the animated feature “Rio,” I now know why the caged bird sings — and drinks hot chocolate and plays with a remote-control car.

Such domesticity might explain why he doesn’t do the one thing he’s meant for, but that doesn’t mean he can’t learn with his brethren.

Even if it means taking the easy way out and hitching a ride atop a hang glider.

Out of all the birds that nest in Moose Lake, Minn., one is hardly a native, despite living in the frigid climate for 15 years. Blu (voice of Jesse Eisenberg) is a blue macaw who has settled into a life of cozy, grounded bliss with his owner Linda (Leslie Mann).

Though he’s been trained to do virtually anything, Blu has never once felt an instinctual need to flap his wings because he’s never needed to. And, while that might make him the subject of taunting by the local Canadian geese (Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch), he’s secure enough to stay where he is.

That all changes when a Brazilian ornithologist (Rodrigo Santoro) approaches Linda about bringing Blu to his Rio de Janeiro bird shelter to perpetuate his species, which is on the brink of extinction.

Skeptical Blu thinks the trip will amount to nothing more than a chance to brush up on his Portuguese, but that’s before he meets his mating partner, Jewel (Anne Hathaway).

While he’s lovestruck, she’s less than enthusiastic about getting close, especially in captivity.

But, the two lovebirds have their feathers ruffled further when they’re snatched by a group of smugglers and their pet cockatoo (Jemaine Clement).

You could hardly hope for a better person than Eisenberg to give voice to a character who proudly takes the nickname “nerd bird.”

With a tone that’s as nerve-addled and fussy as ever, he may as well slap on a pair of makeshift wings and play a live-action Blu, although he probably wouldn’t be able to mimic the avian’s library of sound effects.

Hathaway is strong as sharp-beaked, fiercely self-reliant Jewel, who deeply mistrusts humans and isn’t too fond of her prepared mate, either, unable to understand Blu’s affinity for being a pet.

But, to be fair, the word he prefers is “companion.”

Mann is sweet as his mousy owner, who depends on him as much as he does on her and will do anything to get him back, though compared to Santoro’s scientist — who lapses into a series of squawks from time to time — this bird lover isn’t nearly as single-minded.

The phrase “Hello, pretty bird” never sounded so sinister as it does coming from Clement as show biz has-been Nigel, a dead-eyed, black-hearted marauder with wings who enlists the service of a gang of pocket-picking marmosets to help him track down Blu and Jewel once they make their escape.

Too bad you can’t get far when you’re chained together and only one of you can fly.

But, help comes in many forms, a slobbery bulldog named Luiz (Tracy Morgan) providing ground support while toucan Rafael (George Lopez), canary Nico (Jamie Foxx) and cardinal Pedro (will.i.am) lend assistance in the air.

Birds of a feather flock together, and apparently, the staff at Blue Sky Studios wanted to include every single entry in the birdwatcher’s handbook, with everything from parrots to spoonbills filling the skies. The lush, colorful animation doesn’t stop with the rainbow of plumage above Brazil, however, as the people of Rio prepare for the world’s biggest party, Carnival.

There’s no limit to the flash brought out by the people who brought you “Ice Age,” “Robots” and “Horton Hears a Who!” and the glitz has its pros and cons.

Pro: It’s a marvel to look at the vivid surroundings as Blu learns what it means to be a bird.

Con: The song and dance moments that come with his experience are as overdone and gaudy as a bad parade float.

The samba and bossa nova beats that pulse constantly are fine to listen to on their own, but once it becomes a sing-along affair, the appeal takes a nose dive, whether it’s Foxx’s crooning or will.i.am’s hip-hop sensibilities.

The less said about the attempt to capture Clement’s non-sequitur musical style from the series “Flight of the Conchords” the better.

There’s too much effort to make something a movie of huge proportions when the small stuff is just as nice, like Rafael’s smooth, swarthy rendition of “The Girl from Ipanema” or the burgeoning romance between Blu and Jewel, which starts off looking like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in “The Defiant Ones.”

The difference being that these two are the same color and different genders.

Though overextended as it is, “Rio” is pleasant viewing for crowds who appreciate the basics of showmanship, even if the result is imperfect. Nitpickers will note that there’s little disparity between “Open Season,” “Madagascar” and other movies with the moral that animals should always remain in the wild, but there’s originality to be found.

And, to those who accuse Blue Sky of story-smuggling, the response is a resounding “squawk-squawk-squawkety-squawk.”

Sorry. Didn’t mean to curse.

Now playing at the West Theatre and Steamboat Springs’ Carmike Chief Plaza 4.

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