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RIO Brings Brazil to the Big Screen

By Paige, Nicaragua, June 2011

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Flying high on great reviews and an even better soundtrack featuring Brazilian bossanova legend Sergio Mendes, the animated film Rio is playing to packed theaters around the world.

Though the story comes courtesy of Hollywood’s Blue Sky Studios, it started out as a Brazilian dream, brought to life by Carioca (Rio native) Carlos Saldanha, most famous for directing the popular Ice Age movies.

“Because I'm from Rio,” began Saldanha in a recent interview. “…I took a group of people…. We did the whole thing. We went and saw a very crowded beach. They went hang gliding. We went to the neighborhoods. We paraded in Carnival, so we went out in the big crowd and we had costumes on… We all know and have enough reference to build Corcovado, Sugarloaf and all those sights, but the details of the sidewalks, the telephone booths, there was graffiti on the walls. The clocks on the city, the style of the buildings, that stuff, they managed to capture in the very accurate detail.”

The film follows lovebirds (actually Spix’s macaws) Blu and Jewel through Rio de Janeiro as they struggle escape rare bird smugglers. Their adventure proceeds with what blogger Lucy Bryson calls “a riot of colour and sound that is almost a match for the sheer energy and spectacular beauty that is Rio itself.”

From Copacabana Beach to Tijuca National Park, via the statue of Christ the Redeemer, the tale takes in many real-life attractions. Embratur, the Tourist Board, was so impressed with the film that that they’ve added a short promotional video at 7,500 Rio screenings in ten key countries for tourism: Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Italy, Netherlands, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, Spain and the United States.

The movie certainly marks a departure from Rio’s previous appearances on the silver screen. Perhaps most famously, the city’s sprawling favelas, or shantytowns, served as the backdrop to the Oscar-nominated 2002 Brazilian drama Cidade de Deus (City of God), and in 2008, The Incredible Hulk.

Today, however, Rio is taking a star turn in several big-budget Hollywood movies, including Fast Five, the fifth installment in the hugely popular Fast and Furious Vin Diesel vehicles; and Breaking Dawn Part I, the latest movie in the wildly successful Twilight series.

Though much of this media attention is rooted in Rio’s increasing popularity as a world-class destination, it may also have to do with the spending power of the growing Brazilian middle class. After Rio premiered in its namesake town, complete with the all-star cast walking the red camera-flashed carpet, and would go on to earn US$8.4 million the first weekend in Brazil alone, the movie’s top grossing foreign market. Fast Five expects to have similar success.

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