Monday, March 19, 2012

DVD Roundup Birds Edition: Rio and The Big Year

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that my professional field is in the realm of biology.  I teach various facets of it now, and have studied it for more than a decade.  This is to say that movies that involve aspects of science or environmental nerdiness either make me giddy or piss me off like crazy.  I'm happy to say that both of these movies fall into the former category more than the latter.
Rio is an animated movie that was nominated for an Oscar for Best Song (though not for Best Animated Feature).  The voice talent is broad and includes Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Jemaine Clemente, Tracy Morgan, Jamie Foxx, Will I Am, and George Lopez.  There are also lots of other lesser parts with very recognizable voices.  So on that score, it's very successful.  The story is also a great environmental message - Blu (Eisenberg) is a blue macaw, a highly endangered tropical bird much sought after for the pet trade.  He is kidnapped as a chick and taken to a pet store in Minnesota where he lives a very happy life as a pet to Linda (Mann).  However, blue macaws are so endangered a scientist has tracked down Blu and would like to borrow him to mate with a female, Jewel (Hathaway).  Linda agrees to go to Rio de Janeiro  with Blu to try to propagate the species. Blu meets Nico (Foxx) and Pedro (Will I Am), local tropical birds in the know.  Eventually they help Blu get back to Linda after he and Jewel are kidnapped and sold to smugglers.  When Blu and Jewel need to get their chains cut after they escape, they meet Rafael (Lopez) a toucan with connections to Luiz (Morgan) a bulldog who can do anything.  Of course, everything works out, and Jewel teaches Blu that it might be better being free than being a pet, and Blu teaches Jewel that it's pretty great being someone's friend.
It's beautifully colored, but not particularly sharp in its animation.  There are also several songs, obviously since one was nominated, but they're few and far between, just augmenting the festive atmosphere of the city of Rio.  Eisenberg is AWESOME as the unsure, contentedly repressed character.  He is really unsure of what the "wild" is all about, and is particularly nervous - especially since he never learned to fly.  Definitely a fun, bright one for kids, and very tolerable for adults.  Nothing like a Pixar film in terms of strong writing, but not bad.  3 of 5 stars/lambs
The Big Year was one of my most anticipated movies of the fall, but it was only in theaters near me for about a week.  The reason for my anticipation is that the movie is about competitive bird-watching.  Now in my field  there are two kinds of people - birders and everyone else.  I am not a birder.  But I found the concept fascinating - A Big Year, according to the movie, is when you try to set the all-time record for number of species of birds seen in a single year.  There is a lot of "on your honor" action in doing this - does it count if you only hear it, but can definitely identify the call, or must you photograph it?  Thankfully, the movie doesn't go too far into that.  Instead, we follow three characters trying for A Big Year - Steve Martin, a wealthy businessman getting ready to retire, Jack Black, a tech support geek looking to prove he can achieve something, and the current record holder Owen Wilson who doesn't want to lose his record.  We get to watch them travel all over the US looking at all the different kinds of birds, and most especially the lengths that birders will go to in order to see a particular bird.
There is definitely a market for this film - probably a deceptively large one (there are a LOT of closet birders out there), but it's also not for everyone.  I found it really funny - it tickled my nerd funny bone often.  However, like the TV show "The Big Bang Theory" that kind of humor isn't for everyone.  Owen Wilson is a really great jackass.  Jack Black makes you really root for him to win, and Steve Martin is super sweet realizing his life is changing before his eyes.  I enjoyed it and actually can't wait for it to be $5 at Walmart someday so I can own it!

1 comment:

Kano said...

I enjoyed Rio. It was beautiful to look at with all of the colors. And, for such a down year in animated films, i was surprised it wasn't nominated for the Oscar. Plus, it does have some catchy tunes (though I am glad The Muppets actually won).

What was your grade for Big Year? I do plan on checking out as well. The concept has me fascinated, plus seeing Martin mixed with Black and Wilson should also be interesting.