For the Birds

In the heart of Brazil, soccer, bossa nova music and warm weather reign supreme. The makers of birdie-flick “Rio” embrace this stereotype with open arms (and wings): the film’s 3-D imagery glitters with phosphorescent reds and electric blues; most scenes are flooded in a perpetual sunlight.

The animation shines in the film’s opening scene especially — rainbow-colored birds burst into up-tempo song, contorting into a kaleidoscope of shapes as we’re first introduced to a young, flightless Blu (Jesse Eisenberg). Though the young macaw soon finds himself in dire straights, he’s rescued by lovable book nerd Linda (Leslie Mann) and ends up living in a snow-coated town in Minnesota.

But when dorky Brazilian researcher Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) comes to Linda’s bookstore to inform her that Blu is one of the last of his kind — one of two, in fact — the duo head for Rio to introduce Blu to feisty female Jewel (Anne Hathaway) in hopes of kindling a romance. In Rio, the feathered friends are birdnapped by smugglers and chained together, forcing the unlikely team to work together (and around Blu’s flightlessness) for freedom.

Understandably, “Rio”’s strongest scenes are in its titular tropical paradise, where the “Ice Age” filmmakers play with the city’s charismatic culture and dynamic countryside. Characters burst into hip-shaking Latin song — Jamie Foxx and will.i.am each get a chance to showcase their vocal prowess as goofy bird sidekicks Nico and Pedro, while Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” lends his voice to the bad-bird-in-chief, Nigel.

The trio performs the bulk of the singing work (occasionally joined by an angelic Hathaway) crooning the screenwriter’s cleverly-penned lyrics.

“He’s a suspicious bird,” a group of birds twitter about Nigel in guitar and maraca-infused “Nigel’s Song.” “Who said that about me? I’ll have you rotisseried!” he fires back nastily — exemplifying the playful back and forth strung throughout the movie’s songs, apt for the lighthearted and humorous children’s movie “Rio” aims to be.

Not to be outdone, “Rio”’s graphics team amps up the visuals —  audiences are treated to bird’s-eye views of the Brazilian Carnival’s glowing floats, as the native’s costumes reflect glittering shades of topaz, emerald and ruby reds, lighting up the movie theatre’s dark interior. Each scene flows seamlessly from one to the next without the common 3-D induced vertigo that 2-D proponents often complain of.

Though the script suffers from moments of kiddy-cartoon cliché (is happily ever after really ever an uncertainty?), the cast makes up for lost ground with their fervor — Hathaway is unrecognizable as butt-kicking Jewel, spitting her lines with ferocity, while George Lopez’s easygoing toucan Rafael provides some much-needed contrast to Eisenberg’s over-anxious Blu.

And though the movie may not soar when compared to emotional Pixar Goliaths like “Up,” “Rio” is anything but flightless — once the samba music kicks in and the beat drops, it takes off with flying colors. (B)

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