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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Rio

August 13th, 2011

Rio - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Two-Disc Party Edition, Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, or 3D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack

For a while, Rio was the biggest hit of the year and was one of the few bright spots at the box office this spring. It came out on the home market a couple weeks ago and it has already become the biggest hit of 2011 with 2.5 million total units sold, including 750,000 Blu-rays. (There are a few others on that list that have sold more, but there were all released in theaters in 2010.) So did these people make a wise choice grabbing the film right away? Or would it have been wise to wait a bit and rent it first?

The Movie

The film starts in Rio, or to be more specific, a tropical jungle just outside of Rio. There we witness a beautiful song and dance among the birds, which is abruptly interrupted by poachers. One of the birds captured is a baby Blue Macaw, which is then transported to Not Rio. (I believe it is a small town in Minnesota.) After a truck accident the baby bird is thrown from a delivery track and found by a young girl, Linda, who names him Blu.

Flashforward 15 years, and Linda and Blu are constant companions, to the exclusion of everyone else. Not only that, but Blu as been domesticated to the point where he acts more human than bird. (He can't even fly.) She had previously posted pictures of Blu online, which drew the attention of Tulio, an ornithologist, who announces that Blu might be the very last male Blue Macaw around and insists on flying the pair of them to Rio so Blu can mate with Jewel, who is possibly the last female Blue Macaw around.

However, once Blu and Jewel meet, it's clear Blu has no idea how to act around other birds and the pair have nothing in common, except for their genome. He just wants to get back to his comfortable home. She just wants to escape into the wild. Neither of them get their wish, as thieves (a young boy named Fernando and an evil bird named Nigel) break into the hospital and birdnap them. To quote David Lister from Red Dwarf, "How can the same smeg happen to the same guy twice?" This time, not only are the both birdnapped and sold to a dealer in rare birds, Marcel, but they are also chained together, so when they get their chance to escape, it's a lot more complicated, especially since Blu can't fly.

Meanwhile, Linda and Tulio have been looking for the birds and get a break when the young thief who stole the birds in the first place has a change of heart. However, they have to find the Macaws fast, as Nigel is also out looking for them, and he wants payback for what happened to him when they escaped.

The film is a fugitive movie with an odd couple romance and a fish out of water experience thrown in. Parts of this work, others don't. Unfortunately, the overall effect is a plot that doesn't really do much new or engaging. It's far too simplistic and the characters don't have enough depth to make up the difference. Part of the problem is the cast, which is filled with people who are great actors, when they are doing live action work. Doing voice work takes a different skill set and there are not many people who are good at both. For instance, Jesse Eisenberg is an incredibly gifted actor and I don't think it will be long before he wins an Oscar. However, Blu was too generic. The same is true for Anne Hathaway; she too could win an Oscar but her big name goes to waste when it comes to voicing Jewel.

So if the story is too simple to be engaging and the casting focused too much on big names instead of experience, what does work? The film is a technical wonder. The colors and the details are almost worth the price of the Blu-ray by themselves. The film is also alive with music, as long as they are sticking with background music. (I don't know what went wrong with Nigel's big song number, but it's a showstopper in all the wrong ways.) There are individual jokes that were good (I do like the angry birds references, although I've never actually played that game) and some of the chase scenes were excellent, but overall it feels like the filmmakers had a lot of individual ingredients but were not able to combine them in a way to rise above the ordinary. I still think it will be entertaining for kids, and parents won't mind watching it with their kids every once and a while, but it won't go down as a classic in the genre.

The Extras

The only extras on the DVD are a single deleted scene, two music videos, and a jukebox. That's not nearly enough to be worth buying over just renting.

The Two-Disc edition has the above, plus a bonus disc filled with extras. This starts with Explore The World of Rio, an interactive map of Rio de Janerio with pictures, audio clips, and video clips. Next up are a quartet of making of featurettes, starting with Saving The Species: One Voice At A Time, a 25-minute making featurette that focuses in the impressive voice cast. The Making of Hot Wings is an 8-minute making of featurette, this time focusing on the creation of one of the songs from the film. Boom-Boom Tish-Tish: The Sounds of Rio spends 13 minutes on the score and the various other sounds in the movie. And finally The Real Rio spends 10 minutes looking at the real Rio de Janerio and how it inspired the film. Carnival Dance-O Rama has some dance lessons.

The Blu-ray has all of that, plus Postcards from Rio, an interactive extra where you can make your own postcard featuring locations and characters from the movie. Finally, there's The Acting Animators, which is a short featurette showing the animators acting out the parts, which they used to help animate the movie.

I do not have the 3D copy, which isn't released generally till the end of the month. I also haven't made the leap to 3-D yet, but I am thinking of buying a 3D computer monitor to hook up to a Blu-ray player just to review movies. It depends on how may offers I get in the upcoming months.

As I mentioned in the review, the film looks phenomenal. Simply put, it is perfect. Demonstration material. The audio is practically as good with clear dialogue, plenty of ambient sound, directional effects, solid base, etc.

Looking at the prices, the Blu-ray is less than 30% more than the Two-Disc Party Edition DVD, while the 3D version is only 22% more than that. Clearly if you have made the leap to 3D, that is the way to go, while the Blu-ray is the better deal over either version of the DVD.

The Verdict

I have reviewed four digitally animated films that were released in theaters and while I may have focused more on the negatives than the positives in this review, Rio will probably please kids the most out of the four. (Rango's better for adult aficionados of the art form.) The Single-Disc DVD is only worth a rental, while if you are interested in buying, the Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack, or the 3D Blu-ray / Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack is the way to go.

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Filed under: Video Review, Rio