The trailers for RIO promised busy, colorful animation with lame humor. And that’s pretty much what you get in the film itself. The story of a blue macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) who is brought back to Brazil to mate with the only other known female of his species (Anne Hathaway) and gets stolen by poachers trying to make money off them isn’t particularly interesting enough to sustain a full-length film. The amateurish visual humor is strictly for the kiddies, as is most of the film. The colorful Carnival atmosphere, however, does give John Powell the opportunity to utilize some energetic Brazilian instrumentations and rhythms in his delightful score.
The score opens with Blu’s entertaining morning routine at his home in Minnesota. Powell incorporates Blu’s main theme in his best Americana pastiche. A tuba voices the bumbling, yet loveable, theme for Brazilian ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) and a slithery chromatic theme gives malicious glee to Jermaine Clement’s cockatoo Nigel.
The score features numerous Brazilian percussionists, including Carlinhos Brown, who co-wrote and performed many of the film’s songs. Gentle bossa nova and samba rhythms infiltrate nearly every track, making this a truly unique score, especially for an animated film. The strumming guitars and raucous percussion often take the foreground, as well they should, in tracks like “Juicy Little Mango” and “Bird Flight.” Throughout the score, Powell’s successfully weaves the percussion in and out of the orchestral fabric.
My favorite track, “Birds Moved,” shows off the major elements of Powell’s score all in one track. The gentle bossa nova guitar leads into snippets of Blu and Nigel’s themes. The percussion take over, increasing in volume and tempo until the bottom drops out with a timpani roll and Blu’s theme soars in the full acoustical sound of the orchestra before settling into the fading sounds of the percussion. The track is split up into various moments in the film and loses some of its impact, but it’s thrilling on the album.
One of the joys of the score is how subtly Powell weaves in melodic fragments from the songs. Snippets of “Real In Rio” occur throughout the score, whether in more festive arrangements (“Chained Chase”) or soaring orchestrations like “Birdnapped” and “Flying.” The ballad “Fly Love” is interpolated into the piccolo and celeste lines in “Heimlich” and “Funky Monkey” is featured in the frenetic “Motorbike.”
Unfortunately, the busy-ness of the action onscreen gets in the way of the enjoyment of Powell’s score while watching the film. Powell’s music takes center stage especially during the aerial sequences, which feature some lovely animation, but the score often gets lost in the spastic energy of the film. This is a score that is best appreciated on its own. It will mean even more if you’re familiar with the original song soundtrack.
I was afraid my lack of enthusiasm for the film would color my enjoyment of the score on its own. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. RIO may not be an immediate classic like DRAGON, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable score that improves with repeated listenings, with more than one goosebump-inducing musical moment. Here’s hoping this is the beginning of more enjoyable scores this year. RIO is a winner.