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'Rio' a fun time for all

"Rio" (G): Kids 6 and older will have a lively, funny, educational (sorry, but it's true) time at "Rio," a 3-D animated delight about a rare macaw named Blu (voice of Jesse Eisenberg).

We see Blu captured as a fledgling who falls from his nest in the Brazilian jungle. He's taken to the United States with other poached birds, but his box falls off a truck and he's rescued by a little girl, Linda. She grows into a sweet, bespectacled young woman (voice of Leslie Mann) with a little bookstore and the smart but flightless macaw as her devoted companion. (Blu talks, but not to humans -- only to himself or other creatures.)

One day, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), a nice ornithologist from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sees Blu in Linda's bookstore. He convinces Linda to bring Blu to Rio to mate him with a female macaw at his sanctuary in order to save the disappearing blue macaws. But once there, Blu is terrorized by the feisty female, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and then they're both kidnapped by poachers.

The scenes in which the non-flying Blu and Jewel must escape capture can be intense, with the fear of falling to earth, or crashing. There's also an injury.

This story of rare birds held in awful conditions and then sold will touch the hearts of kids. We see a roomful of caged birds portrayed as in an old-fashioned insane asylum, with creatures pacing, or talking to themselves. Adults will catch the reference more than kids. The film does a beautiful and subtle job of hinting at the poverty in parts of Rio, through the orphan Fernando.

***

"African Cats" (G): This flawed Disney nature documentary, supposedly geared to family audiences, follows the lives of a few lions and cheetahs in the Masai Mara National Reserve in Southwestern Kenya. The filmmakers chronicled their lives for 2 1/2 years. The camerawork is intimate and beautiful, but the animal violence is far more intense than a G-rating implies, and parents of kids under 10 could be quite blindsided.

Kids (and some adults) may feel the need to cover their eyes at times. Still, the violence is not graphically bloody: The camera shows the capture or the fight, but cuts away before the kill; hurt animals may limp, but we don't see injuries; when cats feed on carcasses, we don't see the innards. The other issue is the embarrassing, overheated narration (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), which shamelessly humanizes the creatures, turning their lives into melodrama.

"African Cats" follows an older, injured lioness dubbed "Layla," who's raising her 6-month-old female cub, "Mara."

The River Pride, which Layla and Mara belong to, is ruled by a grizzled old male, Fang. Across the river a younger male, Kali, the film's Shakespearean villain, waits for his moment to kill or banish Fang and take over. We're told Kali may kill Mara, because Fang is her father. The story cuts between the lions and "Sita," a gorgeous female cheetah with adorable cubs. As a "single mom," she and her little family are threatened by hyenas and even male cheetahs who want to kill her little ones.

The intensity of the hunting sequences and the power plays among the cats seems at least to warrant a PG. Children under 10 may not be ready for this. One lion goes off to die, though the narration says she "wants to be alone" and "gives up the fight."

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