All your favorites from 'Rio' are back for another forgettable journey
Rio 2 20th Century Fox
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Screenplay: Jenny Bicks, Don Rhymer, Yoni Brenner and Carlos Kotkin
Starring: The voices of Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jemaine Clement, Andy Garcia, Kristin Chenoweth, Leslie Mann, Bruno Mars, George Lopez and Miguel Ferrer
Rated PG / 1 hour, 41 minutes
April 11, 2014
(out of four)
Rio 2 is a movie designed to remind you that there was, in fact, a Rio 1, and to tell you that the people who made that movie have made another movie whose existence you will immediately forget. "But your kids will love it," the advertisements would surely insist - which is true, assuming your children have poor taste in movies. (This is not an insult; when I was a kid I loved the movie Hook. This is my great shame. But just look at me now, Ma!)
But I will take the opportunity to say what I keep saying whenever I see a movie like Rio 2, which is that child audiences deserve better than this. They deserve better than Blue Sky Studios - and there are plenty of places they can find it. This movie stakes its entire reputation on the fact that it's a purty movie with purty colors, and it's certainly got a point there. It's one purty movie - if, at the same time, rather visually inert.
But that's its only calling card, and it comes across as more of a built-in smokescreen to cover up everything else about the movie. And the movie, animation aside, is lazy to the bone. It's one of those sequels made up of half-baked, mismatched parts, subplots that briefly rise to prominence then immediately recede, and villains who have no purpose other than to provide the story with villains. With four credited screenwriters - Jenny Bicks, Don Rhymer, Yoni Brenner and Carlos Kotkin - it feels like each one was responsible for coming up with one story angle, and then it was up to director Carlos Saldanha to cobble them all together into something vaguely coherent.
Story angle No. 1: Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) is happy with his new family life with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their three children - presumably the last five Spix's Macaws on Earth - while still struggling to adjust to the wild after a lifetime of domesticity. His life gets an even bigger jolt when Jewel's entire family, along with a whole Macaaw community of friends and loved ones, is discovered in a remote area of the Amazon, and Blu's human tendencies force a divide between him and his new extended family, namely his father-in-law Eduardo (Andy Garcia).
Story angle No. 2: An evil logger (voiced by Miguel Ferrer) is in the process of destroying the rainforest, encroaching on the Spix's Macaws' habitat in the process, while Blu's former owner, Linda, and her new husband try to stop them.
Story angle No. 3: A territorial dispute between the blue Spix's Macaws and the red Scarlet Macaws, which is upended when Blu accidentally ventures into enemy territory.
Story angle No. 4: Nigel (Jemaine Clement), having miraculously survived at the end of Rio, has lost his ability to fly but not his appetite for power and destruction. And so, with the obsessive, lovestruck poison dart frog Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth) as his loyal servant/sidekick, Nigel goes on the hunt for Blu to, I presume, exact revenge or something.
Oh, and in addition to all that, the comic-relief sidekicks voiced by Jamie Foxx, George Lopez and will.i.am are for some reason in charge of a talent search for the upcoming Carnival. (I guess that makes five subplots, not four - but hey, I was going for one per screenwriter, alright? Apparently one of the four was an overachiever.)
Of the various competing plots, only one is completely necessary, while one of the others provides context. The other three are entirely superfluous, taking away much-needed time from the character struggle in the central storyline. There's something substantial to Blu's plight; this is someone who was lived his entire life in a particular way, and who's been practically forced to embrace a whole new lifestyle. But there's something severely problematic with the way the filmmakers approach it, completely stacking the deck to make it explicitly clear what direction we're headed - namely who is right and who is wrong - without ever stopping to consider why. This unintentionally makes certain characters' behavior seem cruel and self-absorbed.
In lieu of the kind of nuance that may have given that story weight, the filmmakers just pile on the meaningless subplots. Nigel and Gabi are probably the most entertaining element of the film - a couple of the musical numbers* have the same absurd, genre-bending playfulness of Clement's songs from the Flight of the Conchords series - but they're utterly useless to the big picture.
* In general, the film's musical numbers are the only area where the filmmakers really seem to be stretching their muscles a bit, so we get a few terrific standalone scenes amid all the mediocrity.
Ditto the bird sidekicks' Carnival talent search, which is little more than an excuse to give the high-profile voice talent something to do. And the tribal conflict between the dueling Macaw species? I just saw the movie and I don't even remember what came of it.
But that's the problem - almost everything in Rio 2 is extraneous. The one opportunity the filmmakers had to really explore something, they abandoned it in favor of easy solutions and aimless diversions. But hey, at least we know one thing: a lack of ideas won't stop these guys from making a feature film, so we can all look forward to Rio 3 in a couple of years. Just don't expect to remember the first two when that time comes.