Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Blu learns to fly with help from his friends.
Thirteen years after the movie "Paulie,” bird owners have another chance to see parrots on the big screen — this time in 3D! "Rio” is the story about Blu, who has never learned how to fly, living in Moose Lake, Minn., with his owner and best friend, Linda. It turns out that Blu is also the world’s rarest macaw, and when Linda and he hear about another macaw like Blu in Rio de Janeiro, they travel to Brazil and meet Jewel. The adventure turns dark when the two birds are kidnapped by bird traffickers and, after escaping, Blu must find the strength to learn how to fly and return to his owner with the help of his new friends.
BIRD TALK Magazine sat down with the director of "Rio,” Carlos Saldanha to talk about this 3D animated adventure. Saldanha, director of the animated films "Ice Age,” "Ice Age: The Meltdown,” "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” and "Robots,” is excited to spotlight his hometown in the film. "The story is about Blu, a rare macaw, and his journey to Brazil where he learns how to fly. It’s also the story of an outsider coming to Brazil, to Rio,” Saldanha said. "And finding his heart in Rio.”
Courtesy 20th Century Fox
Carlos Saldanha, director of Rio, grew up in Rio de Janerio, and is no stranger to parrots.
Saldanha, who grew up in Rio de Janeiro, is no stranger to parrots. He grew up with native Brazilian birds around him and even had two birds of his own. "I had two yellow parakeets,” Saldanha said. "I trained them to live outside their cage, and was successful, to a point. They flew away.” His fascination with parrots and birds continued on, however.
"Rio” wasn’t always about a macaw coming to Brazil; in fact, it was originally about another species of bird altogether. "The very original story was about a penguin arriving on the beaches of Rio,” said Saldanha. "This happens all the time in Brazil. Find a penguin here, find a penguin there. So, this penguin that came from the cold, would wash up on the shores of Rio, and there he would meet all these tropical birds, who dance and sing and show him the good life.”
There was only one problem, explained Saldanha. "At the time, there were so many penguin movies. ‘March of the Penguins,’ ‘Surf’s Up,’ the penguins from [the film] ‘Madagascar.’” One of Saldanha’s characters, however, was a blue macaw. And so the movie’s focus shifted.
As work began on the film, the animation teams studied parrots at the Bronx zoo, and two parrots were brought into the studio. There, Saldanha learned about parrots and pet birds. "I learned a lot about a parrot’s relationship with its owner. I also learned about a pet bird’s little habits, like how they’re able to open cages and they don’t really need to fly, they only needed to climb.”
He also learned some surprising things (as a non-pet bird owner). "Cockatoos, and other birds, can eat chicken! It seemed a little cannibalistic,” he said. The trainer explained that many birds eat meat, and Saldanha thought it would be funny to have in the movie. Now, it’s part of the film. The cockatoo villain eats chicken, much to the dismay of the other birds.
When it came time to bring the birds to life on screen, Saldanha wanted his characters to be humanistic, but also clearly birds. "I want people to recognize their behaviors. We strived to capture how they walk, how they use their wings and crest,” he said. For pet bird owners, he wanted to give something extra. "For people who know more about birds, we added little things that only they would recognize. For example, I learned that cockatoos have a powder, so when the cockatoo villain gets angry, he releases a puff of powder. Only a bird person would recognize that.”
Courtesy 20th Century Fox
"Rio” is a story about the world’s rarest macaw finding his heart in Rio, but it is also about conservation and the dark world of bird trafficking. Blu, the hero of the story, is based on a Spix’s macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii), a parrot that is now extinct in the wild. "I wanted the rarest bird, the blue macaw. I knew about the Lear’s macaws, and how they’ve been having conservation successes in the wild. The same with the hyacinth macaws. But the Spix’s macaw truly is the rarest,” Saldanha said. As of 2010, there are around 85 Spix’s macaws in captive-breeding programs around the world, according to the Al Wabra Wildlife Preservation, an organization that has a Spix’s macaw breeding program.
Salhanda hopes his movie creates some awareness about parrots in the wild. "In America, people can have parrots as a pet, and they only see them in pet shops. But in countries like Brazil, you hear about hundreds of birds being taken every day; about how law enforcement found the traffickers with birds. I find it very sad, and I want people to know this. Also, by growing awareness, we can really make sure we work to preserve the birds in the wild and stop cases of extinction, like with the Spix’s.”
Saldanha wants to meet the Spix’s macaws in the São Paulo Zoo in Brazil and is excited about the possibility. "We’ll probably do something with them,” Saldanha said. "Something to help out their program.”
"Rio” hits theaters April 15, 2011.