April 11, 2014
The Brazilian director of the computer animated $484 million dollar blockbuster, Rio, Carlos Saldanha and Blue Sky Studios come together again for a sequel, bringing gorgeous color, highly detailed backgrounds, enhanced characterization and better songs to Rio 2, making it a far superior film than its predecessor.
Also the director of several of Blue Sky’s successful Ice Age sequels, Saldanha is not only the director but the co-writer on this new release.
Exotic and rare Spix’s Macaws Blu and Jewel return, as voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway respectively, as well as a host of other featured characters from the first film.
The plot centers on Blu and Jewel’s family expedition to the Amazon rainforest with their three kids, with their old cockatoo nemesis Nigel and his new minions Gabi the poison frog and tamandua (a type of ant eater) in hot vengeful pursuit.
The visiting macaws discover Jewel’s long-lost father Eduardo, who leads a huge hidden tribe of their species deep in the Amazon. There is the expected and somewhat predictable conservation message, reminiscent of “Ferngully,” which is de rigueur for any film taking place in the rain forest.
Disaster looms from illegal loggers encroaching on their habitat as well as from Nigel who, on a personal vendetta, seeks to kill Blu and his family. One other, more amusing threat Blu perceives is to their marital bliss and happiness. It comes in the form of Jewel’s childhood friend and macaw with mucho macho, Roberto.
The best news for this movie is the introduction of new creatures…they represent some of the highlights of the feature, and come in the form of Andy Garcia’s Eduardo, Bruno Mars’ Roberto and Jemaine Clement’s Nigel, but the most entertainingly from Gabi, voiced by Kristin Chenoweth.
She suffers from a crippling love crush on Nigel, and her adulation allows for the best song of the movie, “Poisonous Love,” which is a hoot, and perfectly executed by the sometimes annoying Chenowith.
Gabi is a twisted cartoon mashup of Harley from Batman and the stepsisters from Ella Enchanted. Lathario and would-be thief of Jewel’s heart Roberto has a velvet voice and long mane of blue feathers that make most macaw maidens swoon on sight, and he’s a joy to watch. The tamandua, though wordless, uses his tongue to inventive and hilarious effect.
Although entertaining, the original film’s plot and character designs felt derivative and rather cardboard in many ways. Tulio, the human from Brazil introduced as Linda (Blu’s human) love interest, is someone we had seen very similarly structured in 2009’s Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, with Flint Lockwood.
The monkeys in Rio were very similar to, but less amusing than, the lemurs in Madagascar. None of these cliches seemed to bother anyone enough to stay away, as witness Rio’s huge haul at the box office that year.
In Rio 2, the new players are far more diverse and visually inventive, and animators nuanced the returning characters’ traits to show far more specificity in their action.
Blu’s anthropomorphized quirks and idiosyncrasies are integrated with the traits and movements of real macaws beautifully. This is in some part a result of the same advancements in computer animation that allowed the characters in Frozen to have a wider diversity of facial expressions. Animation software is constantly being upgraded, and computer animation from only a few years ago pales in comparison to what audiences see now.
This is also true in the amount of detail and color in the landscapes and backgrounds. Never was there a more perfect opportunity to see how far it has come than the beauty of Brazil, and its rainforest flora and fauna. These colors, backgrounds and scenery, animated but believable and made real, are what raises Rio 2 to true art.
How lovely that director Saldanha allowed his passion for Brazil and his fascination with and curiosity about the rain forest he had never visited to express itself as such a celebration onscreen.
Really this all results in just a beautifully rendered feature offering lots of lighthearted fun. It isn’t explosive reinvention, but certainly a delightful representation of where animation is in this moment in its history. The 3D adds nicely to the spectacle, so Cinema Siren recommends finding locations offering that version of the movie.
For your own family flock, Rio 2 is well worth a flight, I mean, night out at the cinema.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars