Video Verdict: ‘Rio,’ ‘Soul Surfer’

 

This week’s home video crop is led by two family friendly offerings. One is an inspirational, live-action movie based on a true story. The other is a big-budget, animated feature bolstered by a star-studded voice cast.

Rio

3 stars (out of four)
Rated G
20th Century Fox
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

Director Carlos Saldanha was a major creative force in each of 20th Century Fox’s “Ice Age” movies, but with “Rio” he has abandoned prehistoric times and snow drifts for the warmth and beauty of present-day Brazil. The setting allows for colorful and gorgeous visuals, but the film has more going for it than pretty pictures.

Most importantly, it has a well-drawn central character in the form of Blu, a baby Macaw who is swept away from his Brazilian homeland and shipped to America where he is supposed to land in a pet store. Before that can happen, an accident leaves him stranded in Minnesota where a loving woman named Linda takes him in.

Years later, Linda learns that Blu is the last male of his species, and a handsome ornithologist named Tulio persuades her to travel to Brazil so Blu can be introduced to the sole remaining female, a feisty, free-spirited Macaw named Jewel. The idea is for them to mate and keep their species alive, but before that can happen they are kidnapped by smugglers.

At this point, “Rio” focuses on Blu’s attempts to escape and return to Linda despite the fact that his domesticated upbringing has left him ill-equipped for life outside a cage. We’ve seen elements of the plotting in other animated features, most notably “Finding Nemo” and “Madagascar,” so “Rio” doesn’t get high marks for originality. It does, however, score well for execution.

The voice cast – including Jesse Eisenberg as Blu, Anne Hathaway as Jewel, Lesley Mann as Linda and Tracy Morgan as an eternally drooling bulldog – is a dream. Each player gives his/her character a depth and spirit, making it easy to invest in the story, despite its predictability. Also, Saldanha does a reasonably good job balancing character development and pacing. There are a few gratuitous musical numbers that do little but show off the talent of the voice cast, but that’s a minor complaint, especially since these folks have plenty of talent to share.

DVD extras include a deleted scene, several making-of features and an interactive bit that lets youngsters dance with their favorite characters.

Soul Surfer

2½ stars
Rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material
Sony
Available on: DVD and Blu-ray

In 1986’s “Top Gun,” Tom Cruise turned heads with his portrayal of a Navy fighter pilot who struggles to return to the air after a traumatic crash. Apparently, it was a plot he identified with because four years later, in “Days of Thunder,” he played a racecar driver who goes into shock after a terrifying accident.

These films are worth a mention because they’re basically a mirror image of “Soul Surfer,” a truth-based drama about professional surfer Bethany Hamilton. In 2003, when she was just a teen, Hamilton lost her left arm in an attack by a 14-foot tiger shark. A month later, she was back in the water figuring out how to surf, minus the limb.

According to the movie, she never feared a return to the ocean. In fact, the film argues that getting back on a board and learning how to surf one-armed was Bethany’s top priority. Her story is inspiring, and director Sean McNamara delivers it in heavy handed yet reasonably appealing fashion.

Bethany is portrayed likably by AnnaSophia Robb, a talented, young actress who is best known for appearances in “Race to Witch Mountain” and “Bridge to Terabithia.” She also gets strong support from Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt, who play Bethany’s parents, Tom and Cheri Hamilton.

Because the film is meant as a family affair, the shark attack is tame, with the beast shown for only a moment and most of the screen time devoted to the aftermath. McNamara deserves credit for this approach, as it not only allows youngsters to watch the movie (it received a PG), it demonstrates how one sudden, unpredictable event can change a person’s life.

Where “Soul Surfer” fails is in its overt depiction of spirituality. There’s nothing wrong with a faith-based film with a Christian worldview, but the most skillful of these acknowledge the intelligence of the audience rather than bashing it over the head with theology. “Soul Surfer” takes a more direct approach, actually setting several scenes in church and allowing characters to recite scripture.

This doesn’t ruin the movie, but it does push it away from more subtle Christian-themed efforts, like “The Chronicles of Narnia” franchise. The result is a film that works most of the time but feels a tad too much like a Lifetime TV drama.

DVD and Blu-ray extras include several making-of features, a documentary about Bethany and a collection of deleted scenes.

ALSO OUT THIS WEEK

“Stake Land”: Horror film about a teen boy (Connor Paolo) and veteran vampire hunter (Nick Damici) trying to find sanctuary in a post-apocalyptic world overrun by bloodsuckers. The film was directed by Jim Mickle, who also co-wrote the script with Damici.

“Zen” TV series: Three made-for-TV movies based on the adventures of Italian detective Aurelio Zen (Rufus Sewell). Each of the 90 minute films – “Vendetta,” “Cabal” and “Ratking” – are based on like-title novels by Michael Dibdin.

“John Pinette – Still Hungry”: A few days ago, Comedy Central broadcast this stand-up show by Pinette. Now, Entertainment One is making the entire production available on video. Taped in Chicago’s Vic Theater, Pinette opines on everything from food to the oddities of day-to-day life.

“MST3K vs. Gamera – Mystery Science Theater 3000, Volume XXI”: The good folks at Shout! Factory are rolling out five more episodes of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” the television show that made watching bad movies fun. In this edition, Joel Robinson and his robot sidekicks make wisecracks as they watch five movies about the giant, flying turtle Gamera. Included are “Gamera,” “Gamera vs. Barugon,” “Gamera vs. Gaos,” “Gamera vs. Guiron” and “Gamera vs. Zigra.”

“Spy Kids” films on Blu-ray: With “Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World” hitting theaters Aug. 19, Lionsgate decided it was the right time to release the first three movies from the franchise on high-definition Blu-ray. Each of the films – “Spy Kids,” “Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams” and “Spy Kids 3: Game Over” – features Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara as kids with a talent for espionage. Carla Gugino and Antonio Banderas also star.

“Everwood” – The Complete Fourth Season: Final 22 episodes of The WB drama about a former New York City doctor living in a small Colorado town with his children. Treat Williams, Gregory Smith, Emily VanCamp, Debra Mooney and John Beasley star.

“Eastbound & Down” – The Complete Second Season: Seven more episodes of the HBO comedy about former Major League Baseball pitcher Kenny Powers (Danny McBride). In this season, Kenny leaves his hometown for a new life in Mexico. Steve Little, Michael Pena and Marco Rodriguez also star.

“United States of Tara” – The Third Season: Showtime’s dramatic comedy about a suburban housewife (Toni Collette) with dissociative identity disorder wasn’t renewed for a fourth season, so this collection brings the series to a close. Rosemarie DeWitt, John Corbett, Brie Larson and Keir Gilchrist also star.

– Forrest Hartman is an independent film critic whose byline has appeared in some of the nation’s largest publications. E-mail him at forrest@forresthartman.com.

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