Nature Canada

Rio: Animated Film Sheds Light On Sad Truth of Spix’s Macaw

If you have not gone to see the 3-D Comedy Animation Rio, Produced by Blue Sky Studies and Directed by Brazilian Carlos Saldanha (previously directed Ice Age), you may wish to get to a theatre soon to enjoy this colourful and enjoyable film.

The basic story is about Blu, the last male Spix’s Macaw, which is captured as a baby in Rio de Janeiro by bird smugglers, and ends up through chance in the hands of Linda, a young bookish girl, in a small town in snow-bound Minnesota. Fifteen years later, Linda, now the owner of the Blue Macaw Bookstore is visited by Tulio, a Brazilian ornithologist, who informs Linda that Blu is the last male of his species, and that the last female is in an aviary in Rio. He asks Linda to bring Blu to the aviary to mate with the female, Jewel, in hope of bringing the species back. Eventually Linda is convinced to go, and the three of them return to Rio.

From that point on it’s pretty much non-stop action, with a groups of bad-guy bird smugglers led by Nigel (a Cockatoo), and an interesting array of other characters determined to steal the Macaws for illicit purposes. The movie is filled with chase scenes, strange twists and the beautiful animated images of Rio during Carnaval – including great scenes in the favelas where some of the bad guys live.

My wife, who is Brazilian, and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. If not for her, I would not have understood some of the subtle jokes. Just enough Portuguese was interspersed to given the animation more “credibility”, if animations can have credibility. The soundtrack, which featured a mixture of original music and some traditional Brazilian samba and bossa nova, was lively and enjoyable.

The film does present a very serious issue – the illegal trade in wildlife and at the heart of the story has some truth. For many species of bird, particularly members of the parrot family, there is a strong illegal market involved in the capture and international trading of many species. This is especially true for the species portrayed in Rio – Spix’s Macaw.

Spix’s Macaw is likely extinct in the wild – it’s only been known to have inhabited the Bahia region of Brazil, to the north of Rio. Illegal capture and trade is the main reason for the demise of this spectacularly beautiful species. As many as 100 individual are believed to still be in captivity. Perhaps a glimmer of hope exists that the species will not be lost forever, if captive breeding can be successful. But the issue of illegal trade in wildlife still exists despite global efforts to stop it. In the movie, Tulio, the Brazilian ornithologist, does not mention that having a critically endangered species in one’s possession is a violation of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES). This omission is not surprising – Rio is an animated film aimed at both children and adults. But it’s important to note that Canada and Brazil are signatories to CITES. While the capture and trade of wildlife is a serious threat to some species, loss of habitat due to human-related activities is by far the biggest problem facing endangered species.

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