Other than, say, an ostrich, a penguin, a chicken or a "sitting duck," what do you call a bird that can't fly? In Rio, you call him Blu.
Taken by smugglers from the Brazilian jungle before he had learned how to soar, Blu, a blue macaw chick, was exported to Minnesota as an exotic pet. There, he fell off the back of a truck and a young girl named Linda found him. The two became fast friends. Now grown, Linda runs a bookshop while Blu lives a life filled with hot cocoa, terrific toys and plenty of coddling.
But there's a problem or two in paradise: Linda and Blu are told that he's the last male of his species and must go back to the jungle to, um, extend his line. Which, sadly, brings us back to the little issue of him not being able to fly.
In suburbia, being grounded isn't usually a feather twister, but in Brazil it's a big deal. When Tulio, a Brazilian ornithologist, takes Blu back to Rio de Janeiro to mate with the last blue macaw female, the docile pet must defend himself against the wild, free-spirited lady bird who wants nothing to do with a pampered homebody. And when the orphan Fernando steals the two macaws from Tulio's research center, Blu's flightless ways are suddenly a matter of life and death as he and Jewel try to escape bird smugglers.
More like companions than owner and pet, Blu and Linda share a wonderful friendship. Eventually, Blu and Jewel develop a loving relationship as well. Blu even forsakes Linda's protection and comfort to rescue Jewel when Nigel, the smugglers' evil cockatoo, captures her. In fact, friends—human and fowl—risk their lives for one another when things get perilous. And the streetwise Nico, Pedro and Rafael pull the star-crossed couple out of multiple jams.
Linda and Tulio forgive Fernando for stealing the birds when he confesses his mistakes. Blu's bird friends gently and patiently (for the most part) encourage him to fly. Tulio is lovingly devoted to caring for and protecting birds.
Fernando, strolling across rooftops, peers into a window and sees a family sharing a playful moment—a reminder of his deep desire to belong. And the joys of family and companionship are further emphasized (during the credits) when Linda and Tulio are seen with him, the threesome presumably forming a new family. Although initially excited to attend Carnival, Rafael instead elects to go home to his wife and kids because they're more important to him. "I thought you loved Carnival," a bird friend says. And Rafael responds, "But I love my family much more."
A mildly sexual motif runs though Rio. Comical male characters act effeminately and "cross-dress" in tight shorts and tank tops for Carnival. The stated purpose is to disguise themselves amid the flamboyant crowd, but one man in particular seems to be enjoying himself a little too much, parading about and shaking his body in an MTV music video sort of way. We also see him strip down to a gold lamé getup and prance around even when he's all alone.
There's more than a hint in this film, too, that a female's (animal or human) value increases dramatically when she's sexy. When Linda sheds her day-job clothes and dons a skimpy costume for Carnival, Tulio's jaw goes slack and fireworks go off all around him. He was already interested in Linda before this moment (When he says that he has "always been mesmerized by those big round intelligent eyes," it's clear he's not just talking about owls), but the film makes us think she rapidly rises from a solid 6 to a rocketing 10 when she shows off her body in a feathered bikini. It's also implied that being sexy involves a certain amount of posterior and chest shaking, perhaps prompting some young girls to think that shaking their own tail feathers is a better idea than they had thought previously.
Falling birds bounce off a woman's bikinied bottom on the beach. It's one bikini among many, by the way, and skimpy dance costumes are the rule, not the exception during Carnival performances. Linda is told to shake her bottom while she's inadvertently featured in a parade float dance. Luiz, a bulldog, shimmies in a Carmen Miranda-like fruit hat and excitedly says, "Now I can get my freak on."
A bird says "baby got beak" when referring to Jewel—riffing on Sir Mix-A-Lot's sexualized "Baby Got Back" track. Lionel Richie music and a disco ball are intended to foster romantic feelings for Blu and Jewel when they're supposed to mate. The song "Whoomp! (There It Is)" briefly plays. Nigel mentions the women he had when he was famous. Pedro says romance is all about swagger and tells Blu to act like a "crazy love hawk."
Jewel and Blu eventually "kiss." Bras are seen on a clothesline. The monkey king reacts in a mildly sexual way when his cellphone, which he's sitting on, begins to vibrate.
Nigel calls himself "vile, villainous, vicious and malicious." And for sensitive children, this bruiser might just fit that bill. He terrorizes other animals by chasing them down or grabbing their throats in his "big ninja" talons. He threatens to eat cowering birds or have them "rotisseried." He tortures one by squeezing its face until it nearly pops. He also threatens and torments a monkey clan, flying their leader high into the air and then dropping him, catching the marmoset mere inches above the ground.
Undomesticated Jewel is a fighter too. She beats up Blu and others by biting, hitting and kicking them. A keeper's bruised face is shown after he's tangled with her.
Large groups of monkeys and birds engage in hand-to-wing combat. Several birds plummet from great heights, often hitting obstacles on the way down. Toucan chicks dive-bomb, kick and punch the macaws. Nigel chases the macaws across a neighborhood as they precariously skid across rooftops on a piece of metal. Fernando bites his smuggler boss.
A plane falls from the sky. (The impact is offscreen.) Nigel is launched into the sky. A crash-landing hang glider knocks over beach umbrellas, sends sunbathers flying and throws Blu and Jewel straight into an upright surfboard. Nigel flies into a electrical transformer and later the propeller of a plane. In both cases he winds up stunned and with fewer feathers.
Tulio slips on ice and does a face plant into a picture window. Later he throws Blu across a room to try to teach him how to fly. Jewel's wing is badly injured when a heavy cage lands on her. A beefy security guard throws a pencil into a wall, killing a fly. A circular saw narrowly misses two birds and Luiz's face.
Desperpate to unchain herself from Blu, Jewel says she'll chew through her own leg if she has to. Luiz says he dreams of biting birds' heads off. A smuggler calls Nigel a cannibal when the cockatoo eats a drumstick. That smuggler's boss rams a bird cage down over his head.
Crude or Profane Language
Linda "curses" in bird language, then apologizes, embarrassed. The otherwise innocuous phrases "cheese and sprinkles" and "this is the spit" are interjected in such a way as to winkingly suggest profanities. There is an incomplete "what the …?" Name-calling includes "idiot." Somebody blurts out the mild Spanish oath "¡Ay, caramba!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
Linda and Tulio share what's implied to be wine at dinner. A cloth covered in ether or a similar drug is used to incapacitate a man. When the handkerchief is found as evidence later, two other people smell it and fall to the ground.
Other Negative Elements
Nigel mercilessly chases the macaws through the city. A monkey is given a forceful wedgie with a chain. In agony he spits out literal jewels … for the sake of a figurative joke. Birds and monkeys spit at one another. Pigeon "doo-doo" is mentioned, and Nigel says he "poops" on people and blames it on sea gulls. Blu confesses that he picks his beak and pees in the bird bath. Wild Canada geese "moon" Blu, taunting him with their backsides.
Jewel tells Blu she hates him. A few characters tell white lies to stay out of trouble—without consequence. Marmosets pickpocket tourists. Nigel is out to make other birds "ugly too." Several captive birds are portrayed as being stereotypically "crazy."
With The Black Eyed Peas' Will.i.am as Pedro, the club lifestyle gets played up a bit more than it might have were he not a part of the film. Pedro sings, "I want to party and live my life/I want to party and fly."
From Carlos Saldanha, director of the Ice Age movies, Rio boasts sparkling animation, exciting action and colorful demonstrations of friendship, sacrifice and determination. Indeed, as Blu finds the courage to soar, young viewers are emboldened to become all they were created to be. And in the film's quieter moments, we notice that "family" remains one of life's great treasures.
Yet as Megan Lehmann wrote for The Hollywood Reporter, "One doesn't go to Rio's famously flamboyant Carnival searching for the meaning of life, and neither will you find it in this new 3D animation, a tropical-colored wingding that will have kids and their chaperones shaking a tail feather to its pulsating Latin beats."
Some of that tail feather shaking occurs in skimpy costumes donned by cartoon humans (male and female) eager to shed inhibitions (and in one man's case, all semblance of masculinity) at Carnival. And there's no mistaking the fireworks (figurative and literal) that erupt when Tulio eventually sees Linda in one of those skin-flaunting outfits. It's pronounced enough that you have to wonder what this says to little eyes about personal worth and gender confusion.
Because of these moments, mild birdbath humor and sly references to Blu and Jewel propagating the species, Rio should have retained its original PG rating. (The MPAA switched it to G prior to release.)
Clearly, this cinematic salsa is a tad spicy. But families with children ready to discuss modesty, appropriate partying and healthy romantic attraction may actually find this tale of a flightless macaw a good starting point. If you're considering a trip to Rio, parental guidance is more than just suggested. It's necessary.