The movie Rio was finally released in theaters today after many months of anticipation. This is perhaps the largest and most prominent feature film centered around parrots ever. From a parrot owner's perspective, this is my impression of the movie as well as the realism of parrot ownership that it conveys.
The story opens in the forest outside off Rio De Janeiro where birds do morning song and dance ritual. While the singing/dancing is of course personified, it certainly alludes to the natural morning song that birds sing.
We get our first glimpse of Blu, the movie's hero, as a baby in a nest cavity. Parrots nest in cavities rather than building nests on branches so this was an accurate depiction. Blu is captured by poachers and smuggled to Minnesota. Like in half the pet featured movies out there, the crate carrying the hero character falls out of a truck and is discovered by the future owner. Not only does this make the owner appear benevolent for saving a lost animal, but it also absolves the owner from responsibility for buying into the illegal pet trade. However, there is actually some truth to the matter.
Rio is actually partly based on a true story and a real species of Macaw. The movie simply refers to Blu as a Blue Macaw, however, at a later point in the movie Cyanopsitta Spixii species is mentioned. The Spix Macaw is one of four Blue Macaw species and was endemic to Brazil. However, due to poaching and deforestation of their natural habitat, Spix Macaws went extinct in the wild in the year 2000. Nonetheless, over 60 Spix macaws have been known to remain in captivity after their wild counterparts went extinct. Two years after the last Spix was observed in the wild, a veterinarian in the the United States was shocked to be consulted by an owner of one in Denver.
Presley was estimated to be 25 years old and DNA confirmed to be a male Spix Macaw. In the movie, Blu was unable to fly although he was fully feathered. Presley on the other hand became accustomed to a life down low from being clipped. Presley, like Blu, also ended up in his caretakers possession by chance rather than being bought.
Blu is flown out to Rio De Janeiro to be mated with the last known female of his kind. Unlike Blu, Presley was not actually the last Spix Macaw. However, he was one of a few and breeders of the Brazilian rehabilitation program for Spix Macaws required his DNA to help diversify the excessively inbred offspring they were producing. Unlike Blu, Presley was actually given a one way ticket to Brazil, never to return to his owner. The population of Spix Macaws is so fragile that rehabilitators do not want to take any chances. Interestingly, the biggest population of Spix Macaws in captivity is not actually in Brazil but rather in Qatar. 56 out of 73 known captive Spix Macaws are in Qatar and only 7 in Brazil.
The movie places a much greater significance on Blu as the last of his kind to simplify the story line and make his adventures more thrilling. A funny scene that reminds me of real parrot ownership is when Linda, Blu's caretaker, wakes up at 7:15AM to the sound of an alarm clock. She fumbles to turn it off and even unplugs it but the blasting noise does not stop. It was actually her parrot that was making all the noise. Any parrot owner can tell you that as soon as the sun appears, parrots cannot help but make as much noise as they are capable of and wake everyone up.
Rio depicts parrots very well both visually and metaphorically. Sure they don't dance and sing, but vocalizing and flying really is a part of who they are. While the eyes are made to look human and a tuft of feathers on the head like hair, the placement of the feathers appears quite accurate. The feathers would shift from being slick to fluffy much like the feathers on a real parrot express its mood. The birds move their beaks and wings as they talk but more unrealistic is the depiction of the eyes. Prey bird eyes tend to look outward to the sides and be less mobile. Yet the movie generally had the parrots looking straight in front of them and frequently showed them rolling their eyes in relevant directions.
While I am not holding a children's cartoon to the highest expectations of realism, I am greatly disappointed that it showed Linda giving a cup of hot chocolate and plate of chocolate chip cookies to Blu. Chocolate is one of several household foods most toxic to parrots. It would be wildly irresponsible for an owner to feed that to a parrot. But most of all I worry that some children seeing the scene in the movie could acquire the idea of feeding chocolate to their family parrot.
The movie was presented in 3D which was very suitable. Some 3D movies lack enough depth to justify being 3d, but in Rio it definitely improved the movie. There were scenes where the birds would practically fly out of the screen and many other scenes where depth was depicted realistically. Also, the animation style has greatly improved since the earlier Ice Age films. The realism of both humans and animals has come a long way in digital animation. The detail in the feathers and gestures of the birds is spectacular and life like.
Of course, like the previous Ice Age movies, the plot is focused around the animals and the animals carry many human like qualities. However, I think Rio has demonstrated a greater ability to create human like characters without losing their animal qualities. Yet, the movie never once showed the parrots eat or poop. Considering how birds do their business roughly every 15 minutes, the absence of it paints a rosier picture of owning one. Rio presents many of the positive aspects of parrot ownership but none of the bad ones. The fact is that parrots are very messy, noisy, and aggressive. The movie depicted that the relationship between Blu and Linda came naturally, but the reality is that it takes many years of careful taming and training to make a good pet out of an otherwise wild species of parrot. Cleaning cages, preparing food, and general care occupy much of a parrot owner's time.
A scene familiar to most parrot owners is when Linda has to feed vitamins to Blu and he refuses. Anyone who has ever had to feed medication or something important to a parrot will be able to relate to the lack of cooperation on that end. Also, the movie depicts the way parrots stand on people's arms quite well. You can visualize the weight of the parrot when it steps up. The animation of flying parrots looks as realistic as you can get.
The movie seems to make a good depiction of the city of Rio. Although I have not been to Rio specifically, I have traveled to Brazil twice. The movie blends the plot and different scenes of city life as well. Many species of parrots were represented in the movie including green wing macaws, amazons, military macaws, and golden parakeets.
I found the topic of flight particularly touching. Blu's inability to fly much reminded me of my parrot, Kili, when her flight feathers grew back after her original clip. Despite the fact that she had the feathers required for flight she did not know what to do with them. However, having the heart and motivation to fly alone wasn't enough. I had to train her for months to get her flight skills and muscles up to speed. Blu takes to the skies all too quickly when he finally decides to fly. 15 years of muscle atrophy is not solved simply with a bit of will power. I think a montage of the owner training the bird to fly would have been more inspiring.
I was relieved that the movie did not aim to force a political agenda upon the audience. I don't mind a subtle message even if it's one I disagree with, but I never enjoy a movie that is foremost concerned with lobbying viewers toward the makers' viewpoint. I was worried that the movie would end up being political and opposed to private parrot ownership but instead it gave a positive and unbiased view both of ownership and conservation without putting them in opposition to one another. When Jewel called Blu a pet, he replied that actually he's a companion. The movie did a great job showing the human-bird relationship that parrot owners develop with their birds. Ignorant movies often make it look like cages birds desire nothing more but liberty but in fact companion parrots become so accustomed to household life that they enjoy it. Blu said at one point in the movie, "how I wish I was back in my cage with my mirror and my little bell." I can imagine that my own parrots would feel much the same way if they got lost. Household life is what they are used to so it is the way they want to live.
Rio is a story of love, escape, companionship and adventure. I highly recommend seeing it both to parrot owners and non-owners alike. It is a very well made movie with an enjoyable plot and good depiction of some of the aspects of parrot ownership. It is just important to realize that there is a lot more difficulty to parrot ownership than the movie depicts. So if the movie inspires you to get a parrot, consider buying some of the Rio toys or games instead. Then take your time and read the articleson this blog and consult owners on The Parrot Forum to help you decide if parrot ownership is really right for you.
There is plenty more to the plot than my review or the trailers will show you, so it is well worth it to go see the movie in 3D before it hits the DVD shelf. Feel free to post your thoughts about the movie in the comments as well as any accuracies/inaccuracies that you have encountered.
Kili and Truman are excited that there will final be a major feature film about parrots. They're already stocking up on their Rio memorabilia! Truman plays with a plush toy of the main character Blu, a rare macaw. Meanwhile Kili marvels at Blu's friend Jewel and wonders how she can get her feathers looking like that. Finally Kili compares her wingspan to Blu and feels quite big about herself. Don't tell her this is just a miniature and the actual character much larger.
There has been tremendous hype about the movie for months but it is finally coming to theaters on April 15th. Who is planning to see it?