In an era where Pixar is constantly trying to better itself and other CGI studios are working to not merely imitate it, but to surpass it, it’s vaguely grating to sit through another formulaic, paint-by-numbers effort from Fox Animation (the Ice Age movies, Robots, Horton Hears A Who!). Past the original Ice Age, Fox’s CGI films have consistently been pleasant but uninspired time-fillers. And no wonder: Those programmatic, predictable films have made hundreds of millions of dollars. But as the CGI field gets increasingly crowded and competitive, it remains to be seen whether recycled plot points and dull songs are enough to keep the money flowing in.
The recycling is particularly heavy in Fox’s latest, Rio. Jesse Eisenberg voices Blu, a wild-born blue macaw who grows up as a pampered Minnesota pet. Then a goofy Brazilian ornithologist convinces Blu’s clingy owner (Leslie Mann) that Blu is the last male of his species, and is needed for stud service in Rio de Janeiro. As with Ice Age: The Meltdown—which also leaned heavily on a last-of-their-species-so-they-better-fuck plotline—Rio keeps the sex talk PG-rated, but it was still odd to see it as a kiddie-film storyline once, let alone twice. Fortunately, Blu and his aggressively kick-ass avian love interest Jewel (Anne Hathaway) are birdnapped by a greedy smuggler and his cockatoo (Jemaine Clement) and they wind up lost in the jungle, at which point the story is on safe, familiar ground.
And oh how familiar it is: There’s the usual “hate becomes love” rom-com business, a domesticated-animal-in-the-wild story courtesy of The Wild and Madagascar, a pack of dancing monkeys that closely resemble Madagascar’s lemurs, an obligatory Shrek-style “Everybody dance!” ending, a lot of toothless banter, and a Little Mermaid scene where the protagonist’s buddies (here, two mouthy birds voiced by Jamie Foxx and Will.I.Am) construct a romantic musical interlude to get the leads in a kissy mood. The upside of making films for small children is that they’re unlikely to say “Hey, I’ve seen this all before, done better,” but until 6-year-olds start buying their own movie tickets, it’ll continue to be relevant whether a given kids’ film serves up a feast for adult eyes and minds, or a mushy bowl of edible but bland leftovers. Rio could use fresher ingredients and more spice.