RIO 2 Movie Review – Because One Was Not Enough
With four entries in the increasingly lackluster, sup-par Ice Age series to their name, Blue Sky Studios, the once independent animation studio purchased by 20th Century Fox to give the latter a steady supply of family-oriented animated films to compete with Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks Animation, scored a modest hit three years ago with Rio, a samba-flavored, anthropomorphic animated comedy centered on a neurotic nebbish who also happened to be a Spix’s Macaw, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, in full-on mini-Woody Allen mode). Domesticated in Minnesota, but kidnapped and shipped to Rio de Janeiro, Blu’s journey turned on tried-and-true (and trite) “fish-out-of-water” tropes, but the easy humor, abundant sight gags, bright, color-filled visuals, and Brazilian music kept audiences sufficiently engaged to make Rio commercially successful, more internationally than stateside. A sequel – regardless of want or desire – was inevitable. The question, if indeed anyone was asking any questions, was where director Carlos Saldanha would take Blu and his mate, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the only other known Spix’s Macaw in existence.
Rio 2 completely undoes its predecessor’s premise, not only giving Blu and Jewel a family of their own, Carla (Rachel Crow), Tiago (Pierce Gagnon), and Bla (Amandla Stenberg), but an entire flock of Spix’s Macaws, hidden for decades, if not centuries deep in the Amazonian jungle. While Blu, Jewel, and their brood enjoy the benefits of living in a preserve, their human counterparts (and adoptive parents), Tulio Monteiro (Rodrigo Santoro), an ornithologist, and Linda Gunderson (Leslie Mann), have discovered the lost flock’s hidden location. They’ve also run afoul of an illegal logging operation (insert inoffensive environmental message here), but it’s the discovery of the lost flock that convinces Jewel to uproot her family over Blu’s objections and head for the Amazonian jungle with their brood and onetime sidekicks, talent scouts, and purveyors of cringe-inducing, stereotypical ethnic humor, Nico (Jamie Foxx), a Yellow Canary, will.i.am as Pedro, a Red-crested Cardinal, and Rafael (George Lopez), a Toco Toucan, join them on their adventure.
They easily find the lost flock, reuniting Jewel with her father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia). Not surprisingly, Eduardo doesn’t care much for the citified (feminized) Blu, preferring Jewel’s childhood friend and avowed protector of the flock, Roberto (Bruno Mars), for his daughter. In addition to the Blu vs. the flock storyline, Rio 2 imports Blu’s onetime nemesis, Nigel (Jemaine Clement), a now flightless Cockatoo, egomaniacal thespian, and revenge seeker, to give Blu one more seemingly impossible obstacle to overcome. Not content to come alone, Nigel brings along a lovesick poisonous frog, Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), prone to breaking out into the occasional show tune, and a perpetually silent anteater with an extra-long, elastic tongue. It’s also one subplot too many, although the Nigel subplot provides Rio 2 with the only dashes of inventive humor otherwise missing from Rio 2’s overstuffed, bloated, fitfully engaging running time.
As before, Blue Sky Studios’ animators deliver one spectacle-filled image after another, both in and around Rio de Janeiro and in and around the Amazonian jungle. Conflict over resources (yet another superfluous subplot) with a nearby red-feathered flock ends in a well-choreographed aerial soccer match between the two flocks (tribes). It’s Rio 2’s set piece highlight. The climactic flock vs. loggers battle isn’t half as immersive or a quarter as engaging as the aerial soccer match (a potential climax in any other animated film), offering yet another example of an over-complicated narrative and ostensible central characters who often end up sidelined in their own respective stories. If, like Rio, the sequel scores with international audiences again and 20th Century Fox greenlights Rio 3, Blue Sky Studios should seriously consider eliminating or trimming any (and all) superfluous subplots and focus instead on adding more verbal and physical humor (of the non-ethnic, stereotypical kind).