Thanks to last year's three Oscar-nominated animation offerings, "The Illusionist," "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Toy Story 3," the bar for what some might have previously considered overblown cartoons has reached the most precariously high watermark we've seen since Disney's golden renaissance of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it was a whole new world undah da sea.
Barreling into those towering expectations is the dazzling new 3D animated film, "Rio," which continues the trend of excellence, if not entirely with the plot—which is charming, though not totally inventive—thanks to such extraordinary visuals that it may serve to provide Brazil with the best tourism campaign it's seen since Gisele Bundchen became a household name.
"Rio" centers on Blu (charmingly voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), a neurotic domesticated macaw—think Woody Allen with wings—living a happily insulated life in small-town Minnesota with his owner, Linda (Leslie Mann). But when he's brought back to his homeland of Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last of his kind, a beautiful bird named Jewel (Anne Hathaway who gets to sing as well as squawk), he ends up on the run from an evil cockatoo (Jermaine Clement, who can make anything, even seagull poop jokes, hilarious).
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Thanks to a posse of new friends (voiced by George Lopez, Jamie Foxx and the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am), Blu finds himself on an life-changing adventure that allows him to finally spread his wings. Can you feel the love tonight?
Directed by Carlos Saldanha ("Ice Age"), a Rio native who created a cinematic love letter to his hometown, the film is a glorious spectacle that flies from the jungles of Brazil to the favelas immortalized in "City of God" to a G-rated version of the sweaty, gyrating, tan, toned, writhing masses of Carnival on the wings of beautifully rendered birds--and, in one instance, an amazing series of hang-gliders.
While "sweet" might be a mild distinction for some movies, in this case, it's that sense of gentle warmth and lovability that makes "Rio" so enjoyable.