Like an obnoxious relative at a family gathering, Rio 2 grabs you by the arm and insists
you’re having fun, even when you both know you’re not. In this follow-up to
Blue Sky’s Rio (2011), the filmmakers
keep trying to generate energy and excitement, but the rambling story, needless
songs and overly familiar characters undercut their efforts.
Blu (voice by Jesse Eisenberg), the Spix macaw who belonged
to bookstore owner Linda (Leslie Mann), has married Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the
female macaw owned by bird sanctuary proprietor Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) and
produced three standard-issue kids. Linda and Tulio, who have also married,
leave the sanctuary to trek 2,000 miles up the Amazon hoping to find more specimens
of the endangered macaws. (Blu and Jewel may be the only pair left.) Blu,
Jewel, the kids and some of their avian sidekicks join the quest.
In the depths of the rain forest, macaws are apparently as
common as pigeons in a city park. Jewel finds her old flock and is reunited
with her stern father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) and her dashing former beau Roberto
(Bruno Mars). Naturally, Eduardo disapproves of the citified Blu and his human
friendships, and Roberto is just too cool for the perch. Trying to adapt to
jungle life, Blu inadvertently provokes a border conflict with a tribe of
scarlet macaws. He almost saves the day in an inter-flock soccer match, but
sends the tie-breaking shot through the wrong goal. The entire sequence feels
like a cynical attempt to tie the film to the upcoming World Cup in Rio. When
did Blu become an ace soccer player? It’s completely out of keeping with his
super-cautious, metro-nerd persona.
At the same time, Blu is being stalked by the vengeful,
hammy cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) from the first film. He’s picked up two
sidekicks: An adoring, venomous frog–appropriately named Gabi (Kristin
Chenoweth)–and Charlie, a mute, tap-dancing anteater who’s trying to be the
equivalent of Scrat from the Ice Age
Linda and Tulio stumble onto an illegal logging operation
(shades of Fern Gully!) that
threatens the macaws’ homes. Blu rallies the troops and defeats the loggers, redeeming
himself with Eduardo, Jewel and his kids in yet another smart-loser-comes-from-behind-to-save-the-day
story. How many similar tales have audiences been asked to sit through in the
The filmmakers often seem confused by their own story. Tulio
and Linda are stranded in the depths of the Amazon, yet a TV announcer has no
trouble finding them to report the discovery of the macaws. The logging camp
begins as a few thugs with chain saws, but in the overblown climactic battle,
dozens of bulldozers and tree-cutting machines appear. Where did all that
machinery come from?
Throughout the film, would-be carnival impresarios Nico
(Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (Will I am) keep auditioning singers and dancers. Their
New York voices sound out of place in Brazil (as do characters with Spanish,
rather than Portuguese inflections) and the many songs impede the progress of
the needlessly complicated plot.
Sadly, Rio 2 lacks
a visual identity. The designs and animation of Linda and Tulio are
indistinguishable from the humans in Cloudy
with a Chance of Meatballs 2, Despicable
Me 2, Free Birds and numerous
other recent releases. It feels like animators at many of the major studios have
all been downloading an iPeople app from Apple.
In Ice Age (2002),
the artists at Blue Sky didn’t have the money to make a film as lavish as Shrek or Monsters, Inc., so they used imaginative, simpler designs. The
clean, bold look, sensitive animation and slapstick comedy earned Ice Age an Oscar nomination and hordes
of loyal fan. Rio 2 clearly boasts a
bigger budget and an inescapable promotional campaign from Fox, but the viewer
looks in vain for the imagination, originality and energy that made Ice Age so special.