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Rio 2

Theatrical Review

20th Century Fox; 101 minutes

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Written by on April 10, 2014 

Why do so many kid-friendly animated series race ahead in their character’s histories so they might tell stories about reluctant parents? When fashioning an engaging story for the five-to-nine set, is it necessary that we explore the anxieties of being a new father? Note too, that it is always the daddies who have the issues. Following in the footsteps of many, many cartoon sagas before it, Blue Sky’s Rio 2  takes its Spix’s macaw Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and moves him from endangered bird to encumbered dad. Not surprisingly, what was a colorful, featherweight lark the first time around sags on re-entry due to sloppy familial baggage.

In Rio, Blu and his owner Linda (Leslie Mann) went all the way to Brazil to mate him with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and now the macaw couple have three little bird-brats of their own. In a tidy coincidence, Jewel’s owner Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) is now paired with them. When the macaw’s keepers discover a new flock of the birds living in the Amazon they turn out to be Jewel’s long lost relatives. Unsurprisingly, Blu’s pampered modernity ends up at odds with the elemental lifestyle of father-in-law Eduardo (Andy Garcia) and his fussy domestication looks downright odd when placed next to Jewel’s suave childhood sweetheart Roberto (Bruno Mars). What’s a new father out of his comfort zone to do with all this male bluster floating around?

The answer is that we don’t really care, not this time. I can’t imagine anyone who actually remembers the original Rio (I had to glance back at my old review for a refresher) being that interested in the tired “meet the parents” drama of Rio 2. Seemingly, neither do the filmmakers, who stuff the new movie full of returning faces like Will.I.Am, Jamie Foxx, Tracey Morgan and George Lopez, all with their own padded subplots, one of which involves zany auditions. The movie’s social concerns are escalated from saving endangered species to deforestation and preserving the rainforests, and the human villain is a fat-cat industrialist who couldn’t be more generic.

The song and dance routines are still the best value here, especially when they concern Jemaine Clement’s ornery cockatoo Nigel and his smitten tree-frog accomplice Gaby, imbued with feistiness courtesy of Kristen Chenoweth. Like the last go-round, Clement’s haughty bird is the best character on display and his incompetent attempts at vengeance add splashes of narrative juice the rest of the film lacks. Chenoweth’s Gaby makes a great foil for Nigel and her improbable and unrequited ardor may be absurd but it smacks of humanity in a way the family pathos does not. Of course, this duo, and a humorous thespian anteater, are only intended as the comic relief and their contributions are too sporadic to save the film proper.

There continues to be a strange disconnect between animation and storytelling in Blue Sky films. With each new picture, the studio jumps forward in technique by leaps and bounds while the films themselves languish with safe and generic plots. Rio 2 represents their most visually lovely and aesthetically polished picture to date, which is impressive considering the texture and depth of the imagery in last summer’s Epic. But if Epic was a doughy, flat pastiche of bland fantasy adventures at the narrative level, Rio 2 is a sloppy ball of sitcom antics and platitudes hiding behind well-polished imagery.

Initially charming,  Blue Sky’s cartoonish insistence—propelling the likes of Ice Age, Robots and Horton Hears a Who!—has grown more mundane in practice as the style itself has only improved. Like a big chunk of glittering hard-candy, Rio 2 is a hyperactive, colorful jaunt through eccentrically detailed locales, slowing down to appreciate the wet gleam of a spastic tree frog or adore the dewy canopies of the Amazon. Like that hypothetical sugary treat, it’s all empty calories when it comes to the substance of the story.

As far as parents are concerned, this Rio is not that dissimilar from the other Rio, and what it adds can’t really be considered progress. Families who have been dining on the likes of The Lego Movie, Peabody and Sherman and The Muppets Most Wanted will find this outing a skimpy fast-food appetizer. In a turbulent and hilarious audition number, Nigel squawks out Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.” If Blue Sky wants to increase its own chances of survival in the animation game, it’s time to follow Blu’s lead and adapt.

Rio 2 opens in wide release on Friday April, 11th.


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