By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin April 15, 2011 at 4:35AM
When Blue Sky Studio unveiled its debut feature-film, Ice Age, a decade ago, it became clear that Pixar didn’t have a monopoly on clever storytelling or computer imagery. Now, longtime staff director Carlos Saldanha, who was born in Brazil, has returned to his homeland, cinematically speaking, to create a lively, colorful, thoroughly entertaining animated feature.
People who applauded Rango merely for being different may find Rio too conventional for their taste, in its plotting and its character design, but if this is comfort food, I’m happy to partake. The sights and sounds of Rio de Janeiro inform the film from its opening frame onward, and the natural explosion of color and infectious rhythms make it hard to resist.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Rio is the vocal performance of Jesse Eisenberg, who shows—
—off his comic chops in a way he hasn’t had a chance to do yet in a live-action film. He’s got the timing and the attitude, and he’s great fun to listen to as Blu, a macaw who, quite through chance, is whisked away from his homeland as a newborn and raised in frigid Minnesota by a loving human named Linda (a perfectly cast Leslie Mann), who runs a bookstore. Then a Brazilian naturalist turns up and explains that if they don’t return Blu to his native turf and mate him with the lone surviving female Blue Macaw, he’ll be the last of his species. That’s how and where the plot thickens.
There’s more than a bit of commercial calculation in the multicultural casting of voices (Jamie Foxx, will.i.am, George Lopez) but they all perform with verve, as does the versatile Anne Hathaway as Blu’s female counterpart, Jewel.
Rio’s pace never flags and the movie provides seamless entertainment for the young and the young-at-heart. There were a few dozen young children at the screening I attended and they were spellbound; that’s always a good sign.