6:00 PM, 30th July, 2011
The last animated film supervised by Walt Disney before he died was The Jungle Book, which had anthropomorphic animals occasionally performing song-and-dance numbers in a colourful jungle. Rio follows that proven template, but unlike The Jungle Book, this film has the added benefit of the immensely lively setting of Rio de Janeiro, coupled with state-of-the-art computer animation and a talented group of pitch-perfect vocal performers who elevate it to more than the sum of its parts.
The nerdish hero of Rio is Blu (voiced by the typecast Eisenberg, who also portrayed The Social Network's nerdish antihero), an endangered species of blue macaw. Blu has been so thoroughly domesticated by his human companion Linda (Leslie Mann) that he has never even learned how to fly. When a Brazilian ornithologist (Rodrigo Santoro) informs Linda that Blu is the last male of his species, he persuades her to take him to Rio so that the endangered species can be revitalised by having Blu mate with Jewel (Hathaway); one of the few remaining females of their species.
The plot thereafter is predictable - boy-bird meets girl-bird, girl-bird despises nerdish boy-bird, boy-bird heroically redeems himself in the third act, boy-bird and girl-bird live happily ever after - but it is the combined effort of the jokes, scenery, music and performances along the way which make it matter. Of particular note is a toucan mentor named Rafael (Lopez), who has many good lines as the film's main comic relief, as well as the evil Nigel (Jemaine Clement), a sulphur-crested cockatoo and a villainous villain who, fittingly, steals the film.
8:00 PM, 30th July, 2011
Based on Sara Gruen’s best-selling novel of the same name, Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson, acquitting himself nicely in his first major non-Twilight role), a veterinary student who is about to sit for his final exams when tragedy strikes and he is forced to start life anew. In the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s, Jacob impulsively hops on a train – the Benzini Brothers’ Circus train – and his life takes a dramatic turn.
As Jacob becomes immersed in the breath-taking world of exotic animals and acrobats, so too is the audience. The film’s stunning cinematography – courtesy of cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, best known for his work on Brokeback Mountain – perfectly captures the period and the unmatched spectacle of a travelling circus. While the crux of the film is a love triangle that develops between Jacob, the circus’s star attraction Marlena (Witherspoon) and her ringmaster husband August (Waltz), the show’s real scene-stealer is cheeky elephant Rosie (played by veteran pachyderm actress Tai).
With strong performances by the leads and skilled direction by Francis Lawrence (testing the waters of dramatic filmmaking after sci-fi actioners I Am Legend and Constantine), Water for Elephants is a refreshing motion picture made in the filmmaking style of old – without loud, flashy special effects and with an emphasis on character and story – resulting in a moving and deftly delivered romantic drama played out under the seeming glitz and glamour of the big top.