'Rio 2': A dazzling animated spectacle
Jessica Herndon, AP
A vivid and delightful animated spectacle, "Rio 2" is chock-full of colorful 3-D wonder and jubilant musical numbers set against a tale of family dynamics and environmental dilemmas.
The sequel opens with a vibrant New Year's Eve bash, as partying in the music-filled streets of Rio de Janeiro is punctuated by fireworks bursting above the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Supervised by composer John Powell, more emphasis has been placed on the music of this film, which benefits from numbers by artists like Bruno Mars (who also voices the smooth bird Roberto in the film), Janelle Monae and celebrated Brazilian musician Carlinhos Brown.
After mating in Brazil in 2011's "Rio," rare macaws Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) now have three lively kids who have become accustomed to the same domestication Blu was brought up on in Minnesota. They're attached to gadgets like iPods and eat pancakes for breakfast, which irks the raised-in-the-wild Jewel.
But the family heads off to the Amazon rainforest, to Jewel's delight and Blu's strife, when they get wind that a tribe of blue macaws may live there and are being pursued by Blu's past owner and animal lover, Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann), and her husband, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro).
With a few of the quirky supporting characters from the first film in tow — including birds voiced by George Lopez (as frisky toucan Rafael) and Jamie Foxx and will.i.am (as rapping canary-and-cardinal duo Nico and Pedro) — they soar through a dazzling journey to the rainforest, making the often-wasted 3-D effect worth it as we take in the broad scope and graphically layered flair.
Once there, Jewel discovers the large macaw crew is led by her long-lost father (Andy Garcia), who is unimpressed with his daughter's choice of a mate. He can't help but roll his eyes over Blu's use of a GPS or a Swiss Army kit rather than the use of his own sharp beak. But their classic in-law banter is sublimely comical.
Brazilian native writer-director Carlos Saldanha and Don Rhymer returned to pen the story. But they try too hard to make up for the minimalist plot of the original and drown in subplots: Blu battles with Jewel over staying in the wild versus returning to the city; Linda and Tulio clash with a few bad guys threatening to cut down the rainforest (the film's eco push); and Blu's old rival, Nigel (Jemaine Clement of "Flight of the Conchords"), pops up with a beautiful yet poisonous neon pink and purple frog (an angelic and cutesy Kristin Chenoweth) plotting revenge. Phew!
And then there are the moments when characters break out into song. Nigel's hotshot rendition of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" seems a little ill-set when he really should be crooning a sinister track a la Ursula's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" in "The Little Mermaid."
The sweet voice of Hathaway shines with her solo lullaby. But it's Chenoweth's Broadway-like delivery that trumps all when she belts out an anthem on forbidden love. Though the original songs here are whimsical and fun, few are irresistible.
With so much going on, it's a wonder this kids' movie is only five minutes longer than the original. But for the music and brilliantly picturesque look, it's worth the 3-D ticket.
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Directed by Carlos Saldanha, the lusciously animated Rio 2 begins with Blu the macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) comfortably navigating a human kitchen and reveling in the joys of domestic life. His three hatchlings have adopted a variety of human traits, ranging from a healthy interest in the natural sciences to a less admirable penchant for wearing an iPod at all times. Blu and the kids appear to be thriving, but the wild-born Jewel (Anne Hathaway) longs for the days when home was inside of a tree and breakfast consisted of a simple Brazil nut. Although the feathered family is functional, albeit untraditional, it's apparent that they might benefit from a bit of counseling.
This, however, is not to be. When Jewel overhears a news report about her former guardian, ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), and Blu's onetime human companion, a woman named Linda (Leslie Mann), she is shocked and heartened by the revelation that there may be a flock of blue macaws living in the rain forests of the Amazon. Soon, she decides that her family should leave the relative safety of Rio for a chance at reconnecting with other members of their species. While Blu is less excited by this prospect, he is happy for the opportunity to see Linda again, and packs a number of human accoutrements for the journey (the most notable of which are a fanny pack and a Swiss army knife with a spork attachment).
Although the parrots quickly confirm that the rumors are true and the colony of blue macaws exists -- in fact, the patriarch is none other than Jewel's father (Andy Garcia) -- their victory is short-lived. Not only does Blu have serious problems adjusting to a significantly wilder existence, but a nearby tycoon hopes to raze the land on which the birds have made their home. If that weren't bad enough, the deranged cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) has returned to exact revenge on Blu, this time with the help of a spunky tree frog (Kristin Chenoweth) at his side.
Rio 2 has two major drawbacks: The plot is completely formulaic, with none of the tension or sentimentality of similar animated features, and Eisenberg's Blu becomes so neurotic and stereotypically nebbish that it's difficult to root for him at times. However, there's certainly nothing wrong with a well-told tale of the good versus the greedy, especially when it has an underlying message about the importance of forest conservation. On this count, Rio 2 delivers. The pace is neither too slow nor too frantic, and the frequent musical interludes are fun, colorful, and delivered with clear enthusiasm from the actors who lent their voices to this film (particularly crooner Bruno Mars as a lothario of a blue macaw named Roberto). Clement, Tracy Morgan, will.i.am, and Jamie Foxx reprise their roles from the first movie without missing a beat, and newcomers Garcia, Chenoweth, and Amy Heidemann (playing a sloth who delivers staccato, aggressive rap verses) fit in seamlessly.
While Rio 2 is a far cry from Frozen (2013), Brave (2012), and other winners in the cutthroat world of animated features for children, it would be right at home in the middle of the pack. There's no shame in that, and the combination of consistently whimsical music and dialogue and a subtle message in favor of environmental conservation will make Rio 2 a worthy edition to any family-friendly film collection. ~ Tracie Cooper, Rovi