Maybe it was just a longing for warmer climes and spring’s arrival, but Fox’s “Rio” had a killer opening overseas. Maybe it was because this animated feature effort is a significant step forward from the studio’s “Ice Age” films, in the richness of its cast, the exuberance of its music and the vibrance of its palette. Or maybe it was because the director, Carlos Saldanha, is from Rio de Janeiro, the principal setting, bringing a wealth of affection to it. Whichever. It works.
Blu, a domesticated blue macaw thought to be the last of his breed, is taken from Minnesota to Brazil when an ornithologist believes that a potential mate has been found for him. There he is captured by smugglers of exotic birds and must escape to find his owner while discovering a new culture, making friends and learning to fly.
It’s busier than it sounds. Mr. Saldanha capitalizes on Carnival celebrations for color, offering a feast of tropical pastels, and on winding favela streets for vertiginous chase scenes. Dance sequences, set to Sérgio Mendes’s musical direction, have a Latin Busby Berkeley meets the June Taylor Dancers delirium.
And that voice talent: Jesse Eisenberg (doing hapless, pre-“Social Network” Jesse Eisenberg) as Blu; Anne Hathaway as his love interest; Jamie Foxx and will.i.am as a streetwise canary and a cardinal; George Lopez as a paternal toucan; Tracy Morgan as a spirited bulldog; and, in minor roles, Wanda Sykes and Jane Lynch. Jemaine Clement, from “Flight of the Conchords,” makes a fine villain. As kids’ movies go, “Rio” brings a lot to the party.