Rio works its Brazilian setting to its advantage, with an explosion of sights and sounds demonstrating the care native son director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age series) put into sharing the best of his homeland. Regrettably, the same care was not extended to the story, with a lifeless and wholly predictable slog about finding one's true self that fails to match the soaring heights of its visuals and music. The film was also clearly geared to capitalize on the 3D craze, making its current 2D home presentation feel a bit lacking during the chaotic action sequences. However, there are more than enough good things at play here to make it worthwhile viewing for the entire family.
Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) is a rare blue macaw who was captured by poachers in Brazil as a chick and travelled to Minnesota through a series of unfortunate events, where he ended up in the care of devoted owner Linda (Leslie Mann). He's so domesticated that he never learned to fly, preferring to stay with Linda in their quiet bookstore. When a Brazilian ornithologist appears in their store to inform them that Blu is the last known male of his species, they're faced with the need to travel to Brazil to allow him to mate with the last known female, the tough but lovely Jewel (Anne Hathaway).
Once in Brazil, poachers make an impact on Blu's life again by capturing the pair of birds, handcuffing them together in a flimsy plot device that guarantees their prolonged exposure to each other and inevitable romance. Meanwhile, Linda and the ornithologist are also paired by fate, forced to team up to track down the missing birds. Blu has to come to terms with his nature as well as his reluctance to fly. There's no surprise about how the story will pan out, but it takes some very scenic turns to get to its inevitable conclusion.
The film opens with a gorgeous musical number featuring scores of birds performing choreography in a lush rain forest, instantly establishing the place as well as the tone of the film. There's a thrilling chase scene across the roofs of a densely populated favela, bringing to mind similar chases in The Incredible Hulk and City of God. The chase also takes to the sky temporarily when the birds fall from a high cliff to Copacabana Beach with the assistance of hang gliders, a soaring, fun sequence that cries out for 3D. Finally, the chase wraps up in the middle of Carnival, with all the floats and dancers and pageantry one would expect of Brazil's most famous event.
The film looks and sounds stunning on Blu-ray with its explosion of tropical color, music, and detailed characters, and yet there is one reservation. The action scenes occasionally suffer from noticeable compression artifacting during camera movement, becoming so pixelated that they seem to drop to DVD quality. It's not enough to ruin the experience by any means, but it was puzzling enough to take me out of the action.
The package is a dream come true for bonus feature lovers, with a seemingly unending supply of featurettes that examine the music, the setting, the vocal talent, and the production in depth. Saldanha's passion for his homeland comes through in nearly all of the features, giving viewers more appreciation of the effort he put into delivering as much authentic Brazilian flavor as he could in a mainstream US film. There's even a map of the real Rio where viewers can explore many specific points of interest via pictures and text.
Elsewhere, there's a deleted scene, a music video by Taio Cruz, a "Carnival Dance-O-Rama" where viewers can match the moves of the bird stars, a jukebox version of the film that lets viewers just watch the musical segments in one uninterrupted stream, and a postcard creation feature. The fun isn't just limited to the disc either, as the package provides details on how to download a free coloring book app and 15 bonus levels of the Rio version of the omnipresent Angry Birds game for tablets and smart phones. The coloring app is very well done and is optimized for tablets, providing a great extended experience for tots and even letting them easily save and email their completed creations from within the app. Even if you've seen the film, there's so much else to see and do here that it's worth the purchase just for the bonus features.
Rio is now available on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, DVD, and digital download, and will be available everywhere in Blu-ray 3D at the end of the month (currently available exclusively at Best Buy).