'Rio' Press Day at Fox
Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway, Director Carlos Saldanha, George Lopez and Sérgio Mendes attend Fox's 'Rio' Press Day at 20th Century Fox Studios January 28, 2011 Los Angeles, CA © 2011 20th Century Fox

Last week I attended a preview for 20th Century Fox’s new animated feature Rio. The presentation was held at the studio in the Zanuck Theater, followed by a lunch of Brazilian cuisine.

The movie follows the adventures of Blu, a domesticated Macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) who has never learned to fly, living a comfortable life with his owner Linda in a small town in Minnesota. When they discover he is not the last of his kind, but there is a female Macaw named Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway) who lives in Rio de Janeiro, they head to South America so the two can meet and hopefully keep their species alive. But a myriad of escapades greet them, and Blu will have to find the courage to learn to fly and thwart kidnappers in order to return to Linda.

From what we saw of the movie, it’s touching and funny, colorful and fun, with dazzlingly beautiful animation. Following the screening we spoke with the movie’s director, Carlos Saldanha, and the voice talents of Anne Hathaway, Jamie Foxx and George Lopez.

Anne, did you work with Jesse Eisenberg in this, because it seems like your scenes together really had a rhythm to them that didn’t sound like somebody who’s by themselves in a booth?

'Rio' Press Day at Fox
Jamie Foxx, Anne Hathaway and George Lopez attend Fox's 'Rio' Press Day at 20th Century Fox Studios January 28, 2011 Los Angeles, CA © 2011 20th Century Fox

Anne Hathaway: No, I haven’t seen Jesse except for socially throughout this whole process. Interestingly, for those of you that are avid IMDB surfers, Jesse and I played brother and sister on a Fox Television series in 1999 called Get Real. I was his older sister Meghan Green and he was Kenny Green. I’m very happy for all of his success.

Jamie, this is the first time you’ve voiced a character, how did you like it?

Jamie Foxx: Well for me, I was just trying to act. I was doing all these things and Carlos was like, ‘You’re not actually on film.’  You have to get the voice right, which I felt was the greatest challenge.

We were seeing some of the movie for the first time [today] and it blew me away. To be honest, a lot of times you go to animated films and you’re like, ‘It’s going to be dumbed down for the kids.’  But this has got the wow factor. I just had a great time.

Carlos, what was challenging going into this and was it originally going to be done in 3D?

Carlos Saldanha: We originally planned on doing 3D because Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs was the first 3D movie from Blue Sky that we did. So we decided this one would also be in 3D. Coming from the experience of Ice Age helped me quite a bit.

One of the many challenges of this movie was creating a carnival parade. That was not easy. Even the birds themselves, with the feathers and how the feathers would perform, was very difficult. It’s just a complex movie in terms of scale. It’s probably the biggest thing we’ve ever done at Blue Sky. As we speak we’re rendering the final frames back home.

George, do you get to sing in the film?

'Rio' Press Day at Fox
Jamie Foxx and George Lopez attend Fox's 'Rio' Press Day and 'Angry Birds' announcement at 20th Century Fox Studios January 28, 2011 Los Angeles, CA © 2011 20th Century Fox

George Lopez: I’m not going to let them all sing and me just sit there with a big nose, flying around. I sing in the end song about Rio. It’s fantastic.

Carlos Saldanha: We have a finale that I didn’t show you guys, but it’s a finale where everybody sings a little bit. It’s a reintroduction of the cast at the very end. These guys did amazingly well.

George Lopez: I also rock out. I throw a little Girl from Ipanema to charm my wife to allow me to go carnival. It’s so bad that it works.

Carlos, obviously having marquee names in your cast helps get attention for your film. What was it about the tonal quality of the actors’ voices that you cast that made you want them to be part of this movie?

Carlos Saldanha: What we do is I create a profile of the character and I say, ‘This is the personality of the character.’ I will search for different names and I’ll put their voices against that character with the image. I just have a picture and I do a little bit of hearing the voice while looking at a picture of the character, because that’s what I have at the time when I cast.

What we did, just the one quick example for Anne, we got a bunch of clips from Get Smart. We did a scene with her [as Jewel] and Blu being Steve Carrell, being in a cage trying to find a way out the cage. We do a lot of testing before we go after the actors.

Now that you’ve done some singing are you eager to do some more – perhaps as the MC on the Academy Awards?

Anne Hathaway: Singing has always been something that I’ve loved to do. I never thought about doing it professionally; I always felt more drawn to acting. But, who knows? I’m doing things that I never, ever thought I would do in front of a lot of people, and so anything is possible.

Maybe I will turn myself into an animated blue bird and fly at the Oscars. Blue Sky has been working on it forever. I hope so because that means I get to meet a new version of myself. The best part about working is that you never know what you’re going to learn when you start out. Oftentimes what you wind up learning is very different than what you expect.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.