Rio feels like one of the South American travelogue films that Disney made in the 1940s with the likes of Saludos Amigos (1942) and The Three Caballeros (1944). South American audiences apparently made up one of the largest world consumers of Disneys animated films and these were portmanteau works that were directly pitched to these audiences. Rio is also about Blue Skys principal director Carlos Saldanha (who was born in Brazil) returning to celebrate his roots, although even here there is the feel of Blue Sky essentially making an animated travelogue and pitching everything around the tourist aspects of Brazil.
Rio has a storyline that Disney managed to wheel out for a number of their animated films that of the pampered pet who is abruptly dragged out of their world of privilege and thrust into the raw and ready environment of the outside world along with a streetwise companion. We saw variation of this in Disney films such as Lady and the Tramp (1955), The Aristo Cats (1970), Oliver & Company (1988) and Bolt (2008), and other works like Flushed Away (2006), even the live-action Beverly Hills Chihuahua (2008), which has a number of nominal similarities to Rio. Not too surprisingly, Rio plays this arc entirely by cliche, except perhaps to reverse the sexual roles and have it the male rather than usually the female that is the pampered pet that is thrown into the wild.
The failing of Blue Skys films is that they are pitched too much to the easy sell elements comedy set-pieces and cute anthropomorphic characters, areas usually aimed at the single digit age group demographic. Rio often seems driven by a series of slapstick set-pieces Blu and Jewel escaping from the cage amid great chaos that accidentally cuts power to all of the city; they diving off a cliff and landing on a hang glider, bouncing between other gliders and careening across a beach; the various motorcycle rides that Linda and Tulio take; the climactic chase through the carnival and race to get aboard the departing plane. These are all generic, although delivered with an undeniable energy. If nothing else, Carlos Saldanha keeps the film going with a vibrant colour palette and a busy range of incident with things constantly happening in the frame. The loveliest scene, the one that stands out from the otherwise generic slapstick, is the one where Blu and Jewel ride on the front of a streetcar and the other supporting animals play romantic music and even arrange a rain of blossoms for them.
Blue Sky, Carlos Saldanha and most of the same voice cast reunited for Rio 2 (2014).