By Charles Solomon | Animation Scoop April 10, 2014 at 1:46PM
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 movies.
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 past year?
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.