Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rio (2011)

1 Nomination, 0 Wins

Nomination: Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Song - Carlinhos Brown, Sergio Mendes, Siedah Garrett

In 2001, the Academy recognized the renaissance in animated feature films by creating the category for Best Animated Feature.  The Academy only gives this award from a choice of three nominations when at least eight eligible animated films have been released in the year, and if 16 films are released the Academy nominates five films.  While this is well deserved recognition for the makers of animated films, it sets a very low bar for the quality of these films.  In a year when only eight animated films are released, just under half will be nominated for an Oscar, and in a year with 16 releases, just under a third are nominated.  To put this in perspective, at the most recent Academy Awards, 282 feature films were eligible for Best Picture.  If the same percentage of films were nominated for Best Picture, the Academy would have nominated between 88 and 106 films for Best Picture.  Under such a scenario, one can easily imagine the level of mediocrity that would be rewarded with Best Picture nominations.

This is the main problem with the Best Animated Feature Film category.  While every year there have been worthy nominees, the percentage of films that must be nominated have led to some real stinkers receiving nominations.  In the year of Rio's release, while Rango, Chico & Rita, and A Cat in Paris each received deserved nominations, the very ordinary and uninspired Puss in Boots and Kung Fu Panda 2 were also nominated, a sign that though there were enough animated films released to trigger the extra nominations, three nominations were more than enough.  Even in a year like 2012 in which five strong animated features were released (Brave, ParaNorman, Frankenweenie, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Wreck-It Ralph), would it have been any more unfair to leave two of these films without nominations than it was to leave Ben Affleck without a nomination for Best Director or Jean-Louis Trintignant without recognition for his masterful performance in Amour?  It is time for the Academy to figure out a new method of honoring the best animated feature films without being forced to recognize mediocre efforts because of a silly numerical requirement.

The Academy's recognition of unworthy films is particularly troubling to the Oscar completist, who in addition to already suffering through some of the moronic films nominated in the sound and visual effects categories, must also films nominated solely because of a quota.  After trudging through the five animated features released in 2011, only three which deserved to receive nominations, the fact that I had to watch a sixth animated film not even good enough to receive a Best Animated Feature nomination in this dubious system was disappointing.  Rio received its sole nomination in the Best Original Song category for "Real in Rio," co-written by Carlinhos Brown, Siedah Garrett, and the great Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes, and thus I dutifully checked it out from Redbox.

There's not much wrong with Rio.  Like most of the studio-backed animated feature films, it is a well-plotted and briskly paced story featuring generally likable characters, told with sweet and innocent humor.  The story uses the well trodden trope of two characters who are lost and must work together to find their way home (see Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3, Bolt, and many more).  The film has some great visuals; the animated shots of colorful tropical birds flying over Rio de Janeiro are easy to overlook, but are really quite stunning, and the attention to detail by the animators should be lauded.  Still, the plot just isn't that interesting and the characters just aren't that compelling, and as a result Rio is instantly forgettable.  Worst of all, the film is entirely predictable.  Yes, animated feature films targeted to kids are always predictable to a point.  Is there any doubt that Woody and Buzz will find their way home to Andy?  Still, the path from Point A to Point B need not be straight, and the best animated filmmakers find ways to constantly keep the audience guessing.  Rio is just too predictable and safe, and what results is a boring and uninspired film, albeit with moments of beautiful animation.

Rio received its Oscar nomination for its music, a nomination that was probably deserved.  The songs in Rio are pleasant samba-inflected pop songs that fit in the Brazilian locale without pushing the auditory tastes of the audience too far.  I can't say any of the songs terribly impressed me, and I can only vaguely recall the melody to the nominated "Real in Rio," but the film was well served by its music, and it was nice to see a musician as universally respected as Sergio Mendes recognized by the Academy.

As long as the Academy continues to over-recognize animated feature films, I'm afraid that I'll have to continue to watch films like Rio: perfectly pleasant and inoffensive films without much new to offer.

Remaining: 3159 films, 874 Oscars, 5429 nominations

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