CARLOS Saldanha, director of the phenomenally successful Ice Age films, ventures to sunnier climes for this joyous computer-animated romantic comedy.
Set to intoxicating Brazilian rhythms and bursting with colour, Rio follows the same template as Ice Age, introducing us to a menagerie of wacky and neurotic critters, whose fates rest in the balance.
Slapstick comedy comes from a gang of larcenous monkeys, who pick the pockets of unsuspecting tourists, and a bulldog suffering from excessive saliva.
Drool is cool as the mangy mutt and his chums prove that teamwork can overcome any obstacle and unite the entire feathered and furry cast for a song and dance number over the end credits.
Don Rhymer peppers his script with a few one-liners for parents but Rio is skewed predominantly towards a younger audience, keeping the first flutterings of romance off screen.
Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is a domesticated blue macaw who lives in relative luxury in the sleepy community of Moose Lake, Minnesota.
The bird doesn’t want for anything, his hot chocolate made to perfection with six mini marshmallows by his doting owner and best friend Linda (Leslie Mann).
Brazilian conservationist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) arrives in Moose Lake to ask Linda to bring Blu to Rio de Janeiro so the rare bird can mate with the only known female blue macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway).
Eventually, Linda agrees and she and Blu head to South America, which is in the grip of carnival season.
No sooner has Blu met Jewel than the birds are kidnapped by greedy animal smugglers led by the nefarious Marcel (Carlos Ponce).
While Blu is a scaredy cat, resigned to his fate, Jewel orchestrates a daring escape bid, evading the clutches of the smuggler’s feathered sidekick, a conniving cockatoo called Nigel (Jemaine Clement).
However, since Blu is unable to fly, the macaws have limited escape options and as Nigel and the smugglers give chase, Blu and Jewel must rely on the help of a toucan called Rafael (George Lopez) and wise-cracking city birds Pedro (Will.i.am) and Nico (Jamie Foxx) to find their way back to Linda and Tulio.
Rio treads a familiar and predictable path, but does so in style, opening with a glorious aerial sequence through the Brazilian rainforests, where birds soar and swoop in choreographed formations.
Eisenberg has his character’s neuroses down pat, Hathaway is gleeful as the feisty heroine while Clement has a ball as the feathered fiend, whose tongue-in-cheek dialogue is littered with puns and delightful alliterations.
The 3D format comes into its own in the set pieces including a hair-raising motorcycle ride through the backstreets of Rio and the climactic rescue during the carnival.
Against strong competition from the equally entertaining Mars Needs Moms, Rio earns the honour of Film Of The Week by a beak.
STAR RATING: ***