[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
A serviceable but obvious animated tale about a blue macaw named Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, typecast even in avian-cartoon form) who reluctantly returns to his roots in Brazil, then finds love…and his wings. Awww! But also, kind of zzzz! Rio's most striking visuals and renderings of animal physicality will only remind you of How To Train Your Dragon, a smarter and more thoughtful film across the board, which you will then want to watch instead!
You've seen it done before, and better, but Rio is not terrible. It has flashes of wit, like the monkey text-message exchange, and it does right by chase scenes and fight sequences; the birds-versus-monkeys rumble in the bird nightclub is fun. The voice acting is fine, screeches and strains less than you might expect, and George Lopez is enjoyably low-key as Rafael the toucan, despite the damp counsel and one-liners he's tasked with disgorging. Casting Bebel Gilberto as Rafael's wife is a clever touch, but it's a pity Gilberto wasn't tapped to write or perform the nominated song. Instead, it's a loud, generic pastiche that should prompt a conversation at the Academy about what the Original Song category is trying to do in the twenty-first century. Assuming that "not suck" is an action item, perhaps it's not necessary to award this Oscar when the "selection" is as thin as this year's.
That the Academy has failed to acknowledge changing times isn't Rio's fault. Yeah, the movie's version of Brazilian culture makes Epcot look like a grad seminar, but it's for kids, and basically it's unobjectionable -- more than I can say for some of jalopies double-parked in the Best Picture lane. I just don't know what it's doing here; Brahms could have written that song, it wouldn't beat the Muppets.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.