Movie Review: Rio (or, Wannabe Pixar)

Rio: The Movie StorybookTRC’s birthday is coming up, and as part of the celebration, we went to the movies yesterday. His choice? Rio. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a movie about a blue bird raised in comfy captivity who goes back to Brazil and has exciting adventures. It’s made by the same people that brought you Ice Age and its successors.

So what did I think?

I thought that the movie was trying too hard to be like Pixar. We all know the Pixar formula by now. Make something that’s funny throughout, with interesting characters you can connect with, and then make it have heart. Make it matter. And because of the incredible run Pixar’s been having, it seems at times like that formula is just so easy to pull off. That clearly seems to be what Rio thought. Because instead of trying to just bust out all the laughs they could, they kept trying to make the movie have heart and real meaning. And they fell short on many of those attempts.

It’s not a bad movie. I’d probably give it three stars. But it’s got four star aspirations, without having four star material. Does that make sense? And that really dragged down pieces of the film for me. I kept seeing them try to Pixar things up, and all that made me do was see how they couldn’t pull it off. It’s like watching a weight lifter struggle with lifting something about 20 pounds above his maximum limit. There’s lots of straining involved, and you just feel uncomfortable after a while–as if you could *will* them to success, just so you could stop seeing all that wasted effort.

So how does it fail? First off, it doesn’t quite manage to pull of the memorable characters bit. A lot of the smaller characters really get short changed, and they end up being basic stereotypes that just aren’t that memorable. They all blend together quite a bit, and you’re left not really remembering who was who and who did what.

The other big way it fails is in its blend of humor and heart. The problem is that the humor they go for is usually pretty basic: lots of rump shaking and some poop jokes. And that’s fine, if that’s what you’re going for–but trying to blend that with a feel good message just feels out of place. There’s a climax with main characters dressed in skimpy clothes for Carnival, and it’s just harder to feel for these characters when they look so screwy (and it was so predictable anyway). Imagine Toy Story 3, but with Woody dressed in a bikini. Not quite the same gravitas.

Still, I feel bad–I don’t mean to put the movie down this much. It was fun. Three stars, remember? But a guy’s gotta have something to blog about, and the thing that kept going through my head over and over was this blog post while I was watching the film. Sorry, Rio–just keepin’ it real.

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