I went to see Rio with my son the other day. Like most Blue Sky movies, it had well designed characters, nicely animated, moving from one high energy sequence to another. The birds, in particular, were quite fun to watch. The dance numbers were inspiring, and made me curious about how they were created.
The story moved at a controlled pace, with all the recommended moments of comedy, music, and action. It was all very routine. Which means, I never felt anything like surprise. The predicaments all appeared to be solvable somehow, so I hardly felt the characters were at any real risk. You want the audience to think, “There is no way they’re getting out of this.” The villiains never defined what was going to happen to the birds. They were put in cages to be taken “away.” It was just too vague. To confuse things, the bird owners attempt at rescuing the birds included nearly colliding a parade float into the plane the birds were in, which could have resulted in the birds death. Who is the dangerous one in that situation?
Blue, the male bird the story revolves around, was a weak character. Although he acted heroically at the end, during most of the movie he was too wimpy and too afraid to be much of a motivator for the story. Buster Keaton usually played a wimpy character, who at the end of the story manages to win the battle, but during the story he tried to be stronger. In “The General” he tried to join the army, in “College” he tried to play sports, in “Steamboat Bill Jr”, he at least pretended to be a steamboat officer. Blue worked at making excuses, and I lost interest in him and started to find him annoying.
The monkeys were fun characters, although I momentarily mistook them for the lemurs from Madagascar 2. The only thing that bothered me is how the gang of monkeys cowered from the one white cockatoo, then took on a whole building full of birds in a rumble later on.
In contrast, I just got around to watching “Ponyo”. While watching that, I was continuously surprised, amazed and delighted. Miyasaki is still the greatest director of animated films. Admittedly it has more supernatural influences which opens up possibilities for unusual things, but the characters naturally drove the story, rather the being pulled and pushed into various “thrilling” situations. Their emotions felt more sincere, rather than just “broken hearted bird lover” and “greedy bad guy”. Characters in Ponyo would be in dangerous situations, but would be forging ahead courageously, while Rio characters would engage in all kinds of wild gesticulations and screaming to sell it.
Rio did have the one Brazilian boy who showed remorse over his actions, and I would like to have seen more made of him. He showed a hint of depth, and could have had a bigger role in the story.