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Birds Of A Feather...
RIO's hero is Blu, a highly domesticated macaw – the last male of his kind – who never learned to fly. "Blu's emotional, comical and physical journey is the film's heart and core,” says Saldanha. "He's a fish out of water.” Jesse Eisenberg, a recent Best Actor Oscar nominee for "The Social Network,” voices Blu.

Blu's journey begins in the not-so-domesticated Brazilian jungle, where as a nestling, he's experiencing the joyous musical melodies of hundreds of birds flying and swooping around him. The sounds inspire the baby Blu to initiate his first attempt at flight, which is abruptly cut short when he and several other birds are captured by smugglers.

When we next see Blu, he's living comfortably in a small town in Minnesota with his owner and best friend Linda, voiced by Leslie Mann ("Knocked Up”). Years earlier, Linda had adopted Blu, who'd been transported by the smugglers to this wintry world. Now, Blu and Linda are inseparable. In the sheltered comfort and familiarity of Linda's home and bookstore, Blu thrives; in fact, he's become so domesticated, he's more human than bird. He can cook breakfast, brush his teeth, make the morning coffee, and serve as Linda's alarm clock.

What he can't do is what most birds do best…fly.

"Blu leads a protected life,” notes Jesse Eisenberg. "He's very smart, reads everything, and is very analytical. But none of that helps him fly.” Indeed, Blu thinks he can use his formidable brainpower to take flight, but he crashes during each attempt. "Blu has a checklist, a pile of books about the science of aeronautics, and a mountain of advanced math equations in which he's quadrated vector angles – adjusting for wind shear, of course,” Eisenberg elaborates. "But it doesn't work, because no book can unlock the art of flying for a bird.” Those secrets will be revealed only in Rio – and only through the rhythm of Blu's heart and the rediscovery of his roots.

Despite his frustrations at being unable to fly, Blu and Linda are content. Says Leslie Mann: "They lead a simple life together in Minnesota. Linda is a homebody and Blu is her pal, and they're very happy.” But their lives are turned upside-down with the arrival of Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro), an eccentric scientist who has traveled halfway around the world – from Rio to the U.S. – bringing news that Blu is the last male of his kind, and that Tulio wants Blu to come to Rio to meet the last female macaw, who's named Jewel. "Tulio loves birds; he's connected to them,” says Santoro. "And he wants the macaws to continue. So he works very hard to persuade Linda and Blu to make the long journey to Rio.”

Linda and Blu aren't so eager to uproot themselves from their happy home. "They're not ‘pack up and go to Brazil' types,'” says Mann. "They're more like, ‘Let's go down the street to the waffle restaurant' kind of people. Blu and Linda really don't get out much, and traveling to a distant land scares them both.”

After much deliberation, Linda and Blu make the fateful decision to travel to Rio, where Blu is to meet his female counterpart Jewel. But Blu and Jewel's first "date” is far from a love connection. The would-be lovebirds are complete opposites – Blu is domesticated and happy to spend time in a cage, and Jewel is fiercely independent and hates the idea of being stuck in a contained environment. "She rejects having any kind of limitations put on her,” elaborates Anne Hathaway, who voices Jewel. "She likes to have things her way. Being the last of her kind has made Jewel a survivor – and she wants to keep it that way. Blu represents many things that Jewel dislikes. In some ways, she looks at his domesticated lifestyle and inability to fly as a sell-out, and she judges him harshly.

"Jewel may also have some relationship ‘issues,' Hathaway continues. "She needs to learn how to trust. Part of her initial rejection of Blu is Jewel wanting to avoid being hurt. She's secretly vulnerable.”

Blu's initial reaction to Jewel is, says Jesse Eisenberg, a mix of "intimidation and enchantment. But as he comes to know Jewel, he's enthralled because she's everything he isn't. Jewel is free-spirited, outspoken and heroic.”

Blu is very much a fish out of water (bird out of sky?) even before his shaky meeting with Jewel. Arriving in Rio and experiencing the sensory overload of its colors, sounds and environs, Blu is completely out of his Minnesota comfort zone. The caged Blu – remember, that enclosure is home to him – meets his first friends in Rio: Nico, a canary, voiced by Jamie Foxx, and Pedro, a cardinal, voiced by Encountering these high-flying birds adds to Blu's culture shock, but he's also intrigued by the diminutive duo's bigger-than-life personalities – and Nico and Pedro are equally curious about Blu. "Nico loves life and music,” says Foxx. "He's a little guy who thinks big. Nico and Pedro supply the wild side to Blu's new life in Rio – so they're wondering, why is this guy in a cage?”

Foxx particularly welcomed the opportunity to collaborate, for the first time, with his longtime friend "It was great to connect with Will and watch him go to work as a musician and as an actor.” The two performers' thespian and musical collaborations are some of the film's many highlights, including a big scene set in a Brazilian club, where Nico and Pedro energize the crowd with a rousing number entitled "Hot Wings (I Wanna Party),” co-written by The Black Eyed Peas front man. "My character, Pedro, likes fusing samba, hip-hop and electro, and making a new jungle mash-up of techno and classical rhythms,” says

According to producer Bruce Anderson, the Nico-Pedro dynamic was one of the film's many happy surprises. "You could feel the wonderful comedic and musical energy when Jamie and will were recording together,” he says.

Blu's lucky to have Nico and Pedro in his corner; in fact, he'll need all the friends he can get in Rio because he and Jewel are kidnapped by smugglers who plan to sell the rare birds for a pile of cash. The smugglers' chief henchman is a cockatoo from Down Under named Nigel, voiced by "Flight of the Conchords'” Jemaine Clement. "A story is only as good as its villain,” says Saldanha, "and we think Nigel is a great bad guy.” Saldanha and the screenwriters gave Nigel an intriguing and unexpected backstory to make their cockatoo really stand out. "Nigel is an ex-soap opera star who still holds a grudge about losing a role, years earlier, to a much younger and ‘prettier' bird,” Saldanha elaborates. "Nigel is very dramatic, very dry, and very, very funny.” Adds Clement: "Nigel is embittered. He was once a successful and good-looking bird. But his physical appearance changed to reflect his inner evildoer. And believe me, Nigel is not a good guy. Any chance he gets to do something evil, he'll take it. He eats chicken! What kind of bird eats chicken?”

The filmmakers credit the actor-singer for giving Nigel so many unexpected layers. Not only does Clement voice the role, he co-wrote and performs a fun musical number that introduces Nigel. Saldanha and the writers came up with an idea and framework for the song "Pretty Bird,” but the tune and character really came to life when Clement and the songwriters locked themselves in a room and fleshed it out. "Jemaine really owned Nigel,” says producer Bruce Anderson. "He added all these wonderful alliterations and textures to the character's voice, personality and attitude.” But RIO's technical and design teams also made critical contributions, giving their villain a kind of lived-in, beaten-up look, including patches where he's missing feathers, and a distinct and expressiv

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