The enjoyable music and traces of authentic Brazilian spirit in Rio 2 tip the quality scale towards good, providing enough decent material to compensate for the film's derivative qualities.
Rio 2, the sequel to the 2011 computer-animated feature Rio, finds Blue Macaws Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) happily raising their hatchlings together in the party-friendly streets of Rio de Janeiro. However, upon learning that a flock of Blue Macaws may be living in the Amazon rainforest, the love birds decide to take a family trip (with a couple of friends) across South America to investigate. Once they're in the Amazon, Blu and the others discover that more of their kind do exist in the wild, with Jewel's long-lost father Eduaro (Andy Garcia) serving as their leader.
Blu then sets out to prove himself to Jewel's unimpressed dad, oblivious to the fact that his old enemy Nigel the Cockatoo (Jemaine Clement) - no longer able to fly - has followed him to the Amazon, looking for revenge. Meanwhile, a group of humans who are running an illegal logging operation in the region poses a serious threat to all forms of life in the rainforest.
Animation filmmaker Carlos Saldanha takes a "go bigger" approach with the followup to his original Rio movie, similar to his technique on his previous 3D animated sequels for Blue Sky Studios (see: the second and third Ice Age installments). As such, Rio 2 significantly inflates the number of subplots and characters featured in its predecessor, while also painting the cartoon action and colorful scenery on a larger canvas. The final movie result is a passable kid-friendly adventure, even though it doesn't offer a lot more than shiny bells and whistles attached to a sitcom-esque emotional core.
Saldanha was born and raised in Brazil, so he has a sincere appreciation for South America and its rich culture. That shines through in Rio 2, helping to infuse the film with just enough flavor to elevate it above the bar of being yet another perfunctory animated sequel targeted at the juice box crowd. Blue Sky's animators successfully combine a bright tropical color palate with animal character designs that blend exaggerated (read: cartoonish) features with photo-realistic qualities (see: the Blue Macaws' feathers). All this, in turn, is then mixed with enough stylistic flourishes, solid voice-acting from the entire cast, and catchy, if also sporadic, musical numbers to make the film a breeze to sit through (while still reflecting its director's South American heritage).
This brings us to Rio 2's problem areas, e.g. the aspects of the film that make it feel like homogenized Hollywood sequel fare. Stylistically, the human characters - including Blu and Jewel's former owners Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) - are subpar in design; they're neither stylized caricatures with tangible details (a la Pixar's work), nor Expressive snapshots of real people like, say, the humans in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Similarly, the 3D visual elements aren't all that effective, as the film is neither structured to provide an immersive experience nor animated in a manner so that colors and/or objects really pop out in the third dimension. However, the 3D doesn't really take detract from the viewing experience either, so it's recommended that those planning to see Rio 2 just go with their preferred format (2D or 3D).
Saldanha co-wrote the screen story/script for Rio 2 with Yoni Brenner (Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs) and the late Don Rhymer (The Santa Clause 2, Big Momma's House 2). Based on the writing staff's credentials, it probably doesn't comes as a shock to hear that Rio 2's central plot thread - Blu proving that he can survive and care for his family without being dependent on human technology - covers very familiar ground, by offering respectable yet generic family-friendly movie lessons while ignoring the more complex ideas that are briefly raised, then passed over (ex. the usefulness of cross-cultural integration).
Likewise, a number of subplots in the film boil down to giving the side characters something to do. That includes a narrative thread concerning Rafael (George Lopez) and Nico (Jamie Foxx), who tag along with Blu's family in order to find new talent for the Rio Carnival, as well as Nigel's quest for revenge - both of which, in essence, could've been cut with minimal fuss. On the plus side, having so many character subplots does set the stage for some pleasant musical numbers, performed by the likes of Broadway alum Kristin Chenoweth as Gabi (a poison dart frog in love with Nigel) and pop musician Bruno Mars as Roberto (Jewel's childhood friend). Also, any film that opens with an original tune by Janelle Monáe must be doing something right.
Indeed, the enjoyable music and traces of authentic Brazilian spirit in Rio 2 tip the quality scale towards "good," providing enough decent material to compensate for the film's derivative qualities and storytelling flaws - if only barely so. Moviegoers young and old might not remember much of what happened afterwards, but at least the party is decent fun while it lasts.
In case you're still undecided, here is the trailer for Rio 2:
Rio 2 is now playing in 2D and 3D U.S. theaters nation-wide. It is 101 minutes long and Rated G.
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