After finding his true love and saving her and himself from a band of bird thieves in 2011’s Rio, the sole male Spix (Blue) Macaw in the world, Blu, has settled with his now-wife Jewel to raise a family.
But the domesticated macaws’ story isn’t over as the splashy sequel Rio 2 changes scenery from Rio de Janeiro to Brazil's colorful outdoors, offering conservation lessons to its young, impressionable audience along the way.
In Rio 2, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and their three juvenile birds leave their cozy habitat behind for the dangers of the Amazon to hopefully find what might be the last of their species. And naturally their flock of friends from the first Rio is along for the journey: red-crested cardinal Pedro (Will i Am), yellow canary Nico (Jamie Foxx), and toucan Rafael (George Lopez).
Everyone is excited for the trip, but Blu. Ever the bird of human comforts, he doesn’t relate well to nature: He relies on his GPS to get through the forest and is never without his fannypack. And yes, in 2014, we still have GPS and fannypack jokes. These dated gags can be forgiven, though, as Eisenberg’s naturally nerdy voice lends itself to such fish-out-of-water humor.
But Rio 2 is as much about Jewel's growth as it is Blu's failure to fit in. Jewel has put aside the fierce independence she displayed in the first film for the sake of marriage and motherhood, and in the course of this film, for her long-lost family discovered hidden away in the Amazon: father Eduardo (Andy Garcia), crazy Aunt Mimi (Rita Moreno), and childhood friend-turned dashing adult Roberto (Bruno Mars). Everyone is happy about the reunion. Everyone but Blu (See the pattern?). He doesn’t get along well with his father-in-law, who dislikes humans and does his best to make a “birdly bird” out of Blu, to no success. Blu is also jealous of Roberto — who excels at everything — and is homesick for his old life, especially his human friend Linda (Leslie Mann), who’s now married to Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro).
But these are just the beginning of his problems.
His cockatoo nemesis from Rio, Nigel (Jemaine Clement), is back and bent on deadly revenge, with the help of a tiny pink and purple poison dart frog named Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth, who belts out some great songs) and a dancing anteater. Meanwhile, Linda and Tulio find their own troubles after encountering an evil land developer (Miguel Ferrer) in the Amazon, who will stop at nothing to tear down the rainforest, a swath of destruction that will include the hidden Blue macaws home.
Rio 2 is a busy film. There’s so much going on at times with the various plots, that characters and circumstances — no matter how dire — are ignored for long stretches. This is the classic case of a sequel expanding its scope with too many new faces (in this instance, voices), with the main characters suffering because of it.
But the payoff is when the myriad plots come together for a dizzying feel-good spectacle that is the final half-hour of Rio 2, which brings with it a needed rush of energy, and an environmentally and child-friendly resolution. Until that moment, when the jokes fail to land and the movie sags, the CG eye candy of the lush rainforest commands your attention, as well as some inspired song-and-dance numbers, most notably Gabi’s expression of love for her wicked partner Nigel.
Director and cowriter Carlos Saldanha’s film is, above all, a spectacular CG travelogue of his native Brazil, with a virtual zoo of Amazonian residents in their otherworldly natural habitats.
It’s easy to get lost in the animated beauty of Rio 2, such as an insignificant scene of a boat motoring through the Amazon River, with the rippling water and the boat’s wake so lifelike you would swear it was actual footage blended into the CG world. If it weren’t for the cartoonish CG characters and people, some of the film’s backdrops would be nearly imperceptible from real life.
Unfortunately, much of the Rio 2's splendor is neutered by the darkened glaze of 3-D glasses; think of it as experiencing a vivid sunset of red, yellows, oranges, pinks, and purples through a pair of polarized Ray-Bans. Forget the 3-D. Skip the glasses — and surcharge — and experience Rio 2 as God intended: in the comfort of a brighter 2-D screening.
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.