Um, did I miss the memo that said everyone and their mother loved Rio? Sure, it was a silly tropical song-and-dance worth a viewing with your familial flock, but we’re not talking “The Lego Movie level” good, or “Madagascar level” good, or “Frozen level” good. Rio was a jovial time-waster, yet when friends found out I’d be attending an early screening for Rio 2, my guest pass became a hot ticket item – even for an 11AM showing on a Saturday. Honestly, I felt like I missed this animated phenomenon somehow reinventing the genre, so I walked into Rio 2 a tad confused, slightly excited, and ready to let these talking birds show me what I misinterpreted – which they sure did while shaking their tail feathers to some infectious jungle beats.
Since the events of Rio, Blue (Jesse Eisenberg) has grown accustomed to his bird sanctuary lifestyle with wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their three chirpy children. Blue has no problem living a life of luxury, but Jewel starts to go a little stir crazy with a husband bird who flips pancakes and children who listen to iPods – not normal activities of wild blue macaws. Jewel has no reason to wish for anything more, thinking her family are the only blue macaws left, but a chance spotting on national TV suggests that a whole flock of blue macaws are living a hidden lifestyle deep in the Amazon. Jewel immediately gathers her family and Blue reluctantly agrees to take a trip into the Amazon with the hopes of finding a whole clan of blue macaws who can teach their little ones to be free, natural birds. What they find is more than just some blue macaws though, as Blue faces his biggest challenge yet – winning over Jewel’s father (Andy Garcia).
Rio 2 possesses plenty of positive messages for children, starting out as a exploratory journey about abandoning life’s distracting, tech-obsessed lifestyle for a more primal discovery of our roots, then moving into FernGully territory for an environmentally sound adventure about keeping life’s most beautiful wonders safe from destructive industrialization. Sure, these themes are a tad more lighthearted coming from talking macaws and slobbering pit bulls, but there’s more investment in societal well-being this time around. Where Rio was about discovering you’re not alone, Rio 2 embraces the importance of relationships, family bonds, and the support we receive from others – valuable lessons children can pick up on rather easily.
Not everything is meant to be digested on an intellectual level though, and Rio 2 also succeeds at being a hilarious endeavor featuring phenomenal voice talents bringing these animalistic characters to life. Eisenberg’s neurotic tone draws the timidness out of Blue, and Andy Garcia asserts himself as a stern, protective Pop-pop, but it’s supporting players like Bruno Mars, Kristin Chenoweth, and Jemaine Clement who steal the show. Bruno, of course, voices Roberto, the debonair ladies man who already has a longstanding relationship with Jewel – something Blue feels threatened by. Mars croons his way into the hearts of every female in the audience, even in bird form, and plays up Roberto’s suave flirtations – a perfect match for the singer’s personality.
Mentioning Jemaine and Kristin brings me to my next point – the musical numbers filled with tribal drumming, rhythmic chanting, and momentary bouts of operatic belting. Yes, Jemaine Clement and Kristin Chenoweth play our dastardly villains, Nigel the theatrical cockatoo and Gabi the poisonous frog, but their dynamic presents gut-busting laughs as Gabi struggles with her undying love for Nigel. Riddled with Shakespearean references, Chenoweth stuns via a mesmerizing opera movement aided by Clement’s usual type of backing “vocals” typically found in Flight Of The Conchords material. While the other tunes are catchy and enjoyable, this love ballad stands as a work of cinematic art both bursting with talent and oozing witty comedy – a wonderful mix that constructs a memorable, sweet moment.
With that said, some of the comedy does fall under recyclable “do it for the kids” material. Filmmaker Carlos Saldanha peppers in a bevy of cinematic references around every turn, from a Miley Cyrus “Wrecking Ball” copy-cat to a Flashdance water splash, keeping parents occupied. Unfortunately, a voice like Tracy Morgan is wasted on a pudgy canine whose only real use is to mutter nonsense – and not the typical Tracy Jordan inspired gold. These downfalls are sometimes balanced out by will.i.am and Jamie Foxx reprising their roles as Pedro and Nico respectively, a buddy team who play off one another’s constant swagger, but blander moments leave us wishing for more Gabi and Nigel, not another one of Blue’s embarrassments.
Side note – a quick shout out to Amy Heidemann for voicing a rapping sloth who spits hotter fire than one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons, this girl is the truth. Rock on!
While moments of mediocrity unfortunately present themselves, there’s more value to Rio 2 beyond being a babysitter’s method of distraction. Stronger animated features might overshadow this rockin’ flock, but families are sure to have an enjoyable movie night with what turned out to be a surprising success.
Dare I say I wouldn’t mind letting Carlos Saldanha take me back to Rio again in the future?
Rio 2 is a bird of a different feather, beefing up a story full of heart and soul for this better than average sequel.