Holy bird smugglers! Where’s Batman when we need him?

The computer-animated kids’ movie Rio begins in the title city, where we see a baby parrot captured for the exotic bird trade. Somehow he ends up stranded in Minnesota, where he grows up (into the voice of Jesse Eisenberg) as the pet of Linda (Leslie Mann), a nice young woman who runs a bookstore.

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She’s named him Blu, which he is, all over, and when a nice Brazilian ornithologist, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), shows up at the bookstore he proclaims Blu the last male of his species, the “blue macaw” (a check of Wikipedia reveals that there really are a couple of species of macaw with blue plumage that are critically endangered).

He persuades Linda to bring Blu back to Rio to meet Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last female blue macaw, in hopes that they’ll hit it off and propagate.

Linda and Blu make the trip, but Blu and Jewel once again fall into the clutches of bird smugglers. They manage to escape, chained together like Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones, and Blu’s humiliating secret comes out: He’s never learned to fly.

All this adventure takes place against the backdrop of, you guessed it, Carnival, and it involves all manner of supporting characters, from a villainous cockatoo (Jemaine Clement) to a sympathetic toucan (George Lopez) to a salivating bulldog (Tracy Morgan) to songbirds voiced by will.I.am and Jamie Foxx.

The plot is more complex than that of many CGI kidflicks, but at bottom, it’s still a blend of the genre’s usual motifs: A hero who must learn to believe in himself, a love story, separation from family, and so forth.

It’s an enjoyable blend, though. The brilliant, saturated colors both of the tropical setting and of the feathered characters are a treat for the eyes; there’s some flavorful music (Foxx sings especially well); and the voice cast is strong.

Eisenberg’s nebbishy tones amusingly contrast his dazzling appearance, and they get across the key to his character: Having grown up in a bookstore, he’s book-smart but lacking in real-world experience.

I enjoyed Rio, even found it rather touching, but the opinions which carry more weight are those of the three excellent third-graders with whom I saw the film. They all sat still through the length of the film, and laughed out loud at it.

Three finer reviews than that would be hard to come by.

Rio was preceded, by the way, by Scrat’s Continental Crack-Up, a short in which the hilarious saber-toothed squirrel from the Ice Age films, in his ongoing purgatorial quest for his beloved acorn, inadvertently breaks up the earth’s tectonic plates.

It is indeed a crack-up.

Rio is Rated G and plays at Harkins Arizona Mills, Chandler Crossroads, Tempe Marketplace and other theaters Valleywide.



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