A family of blue macaws heads into the Amazon — and away from the human comforts that paterfamilias Blu so enjoys — in Rio 2, a sequel to the 2011 from Blue Sky Studios, a.k.a. the Ice Age people.
Blu (voice of Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last remaining blue macaws, who fell in love during their adventures in Brazil during the first movie, now have three kids: teenager-y Carla (Rachel Crow), smartypants Bia (Amandla Stenberg) and rowdy Tiago (Pierce Gagnon). They live in a bird sanctuary in Rio, where Blu can continue to enjoy the niceties of the human world, such as morning newscasts and pancakes. Jewel, meanwhile, wants Blu and the kids to put down the human food and the iPods and live more like birds. When they happen to see a news report about the discovery of more blue macaws — a discovery made by Blu’s old human buddy Linda (Leslie Mann), now married to Jewel’s former caretaker, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) — Jewel convinces Blu and the kids to head to that area of the Amazon to look for their own kind. Blu agrees because finding the macaws — and leading Linda to them — will help protect the birds’ habitat, but we can see that Jewel has more than just a temporary visit in mind.
When they get to the jungle, Blu and Jewel — accompanied by friends Rafael (George Lopez), Pedro (will.i.am) and Nico (Jamie Foxx), who agreed to come along in part to scout new talent for the upcoming Carnival — do indeed find blue macaws. And, to Jewel’s shock, the birds are the friends and family she left behind when she was taken by smugglers. Reuniting with her dad, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), and her aunt Mimi (Rita Moreno), Jewel seems even more determined to make her family’s move back to the jungle permanent. But Blu, who still carries around a fannypack full of useful tools (including a GPS), isn’t so sure, particularly once he meets Roberto (Bruno Mars), Jewel’s alpha-bird childhood friend.
Other things happening:
• Tulio and Linda are looking to confirm the blue macaw sighting.
• An illegal logger (Miguel Ferrer) is trying to take the old-growth trees he fears will soon become protected and to stop Tulio and Linda from getting out the word about the birds.
• Nigel (Jermaine Clement), the villainous cockatoo from the first movie, is seeking revenge on Blu and is joined in his quest by a wordless anteater and a lovesick, giddily devoted poisonous frog named Gabby (Kristin Chenoweth).
Looking back at my review of Rio, I apparently didn’t love the Nigel part of the plot in the first movie. But here the overly theatrical, disproportionately revenge-minded Nigel was actually the best, most kookily fun part of the movie. Nigel, injured to such a degree that he can no longer fly at the end of the last movie, looks run down and falling apart — molted feathers, bleary red eyes. But his decline is Shakespearean, especially when he’s reciting some riff on a Shakespeare play and hammily readying himself for a performance. Meanwhile, he barely tolerates Gabby, a not-completely-right-in-the-head electric pink and deep purple frog. She longs for Nigel but can never touch him because one touch will be deadly, so she explains in a bittersweet love song that sounds like it belongs in some campy musical adaptation of Twilight. (A Twilight musical starring Kristin Chenoweth — get on that, Kickstarter. I will toss in my $20 today.) Add to all this that Nigel goes mostly unnoticed by the rest of the characters in the movie — in his mind, Nigel has the starring role in Richard III, but in reality he’s barely an extra in Blu’s tale of domestic strife.
The trio of the dingy anteater, the loony Gabby and the operatically evil Nigel has a goofiness and an energy unmatched by anything else in the movie. I don’t know that their scenes are particularly kid-appropriate — it could have been a coincidence, but in my screening I heard a kid crying during Nigel’s scenes — or particularly G-rated (there is a darkness that I don’t associate with “bring the preschooler” entertainment) but as a piece of entertainment on the big screen, it was fun. Everything else just felt like the same cartoon characters playing out modern marriage arguments that nobody has done as well as The Incredibles.
Aside from the Nigel subplot, Rio 2 does have going for it some stunning visuals. The jungle is rendered in beautifully rich colors and this was one of the few instances where I didn’t leave a 3-D viewing wishing for some eye drops and Advil. With the central story a lukewarm bust, I don’t know that these components are enough to save it, but I guess they’re enough to save the parent forced to sit through the movie from feeling like it was a complete waste of two hours. C+
Rated G. Directed by Carlos Saldanha with a screenplay by Jenny Bicks, Yoni Brenner and Carlos Kotkin (from a story by Don Rhymer and Carlos Saldanha), Rio 2 is an hour and 41 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.