The appeal of Rio 2 to adults will be quite minimal since it’s designed and calculated to be the best possible babysitter for undiscriminating tykes who have never seen any movies outside of the first Rio. It’s colourful, fast paced, jam packed with repackaged pop culture references that don’t require much thought to be understood, and almost all of the jokes and gags have been done so many times in the past that they should consider retiring and moving to warmer climates. Still, kids should dig what they see, and this unnecessary sequel isn’t openly annoying in the same kind of lazy, uninspired way that something like Cars 2 or Planes was, meaning that while parents probably won’t care a lick about what they’re seeing, they also won’t resent their kids for being forced to tag along. It’s faint praise to be sure, but it’s also a better film than its predecessor, which has to count for something.
Spix Macaw Blu Gunderson (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and his newfound mate Jewel (Anne Hathaway) have settled down to have a trio of mischievous kids and live comfortable big city lives at the home of a pair of wildlife protectors (Rodrigo Santoro and Leslie Mann). When their keepers spot evidence that Blu and Jewel might not be the only Macaws left, Jewel gets the idea to have the family pack up and leave Rio for The Amazon rainforest. Blu, who still has no clue how to function outside of his sheltered former life as a pet, reluctantly agrees. Upon arrival, Blu is introduced to a flock of hundreds of his own kind that happen to be led by Jewel’s crew cut sporting and long missing father (Andy Garcia) and a potential rival for Jewel’s affections (Bruno Mars, in the film’s most inspired and scene stealing voice casting choice). The birds have been forced into hiding by an illegal logging operation (led by Miguel Ferrer’s lollipop sucking opportunist and his monkey helper) and they’re immediately distrustful of Blu’s reliance on human convenience.
Anyone who has seen Meet the Fockers, Green Acres, or Ferngully already knows everything that will happen in Rio 2. Nothing comes as a surprise, with every individual scene lifted from something else immediately recognizable. A perfect example of this outside of the three films and TV shows most openly being aped would be a lengthy sequence where two flocks of birds have to settle their dispute in a game that’s supposed to be akin to soccer, but is actually just Quidditch from the Harry Potter movies (and even then it still ends with the most predictably groanworthy and done to death sports movie gag possible). A montage involving Blu’s city buddies (George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, will i am) trying to scout the jungle for new talent to bring home to perform at Carnival is the only one of these sequences that work because even though it’s aping reality TV, at least the individual jokes are funny enough to have a sloth quoting Eminem, hilariously slow moving tortoises, and a singing critter who refuses to abandon their dream after being digested by a giant panther.
Also fun are the villains, despite the fact that they also aren’t given that much to do this time outside of function as more comedic relief. Jemaine Clement returns as the previously thought dead Shakespeare quoting Cockatoo who wants revenge after Blu nearly killed him. Kristin Chenoweth gets the film’s best musical number as a creepily love struck poisonous tree frog. They’re accompanied by the film’s best and most consistently funny asset: Charlie the anteater. Charlie doesn’t talk and wears a bowler just like the little tramp that clearly inspired the character, but he’s so expressive, inspired, and genuinely funny that I would watch entire shorts that are just built around him. If adults find something to love about the film, it will probably be these guys.
On a visual level, Rio 2 marks a big step forward for Blue Sky animation. The colours are even more vibrant here despite everyone being stuck in a potentially drab and dark jungle. The mechanics of the set pieces that occur roughly once every five minutes or so are a lot more ambitious and grand, especially the admittedly great birds vs. bulldozers finale. Even the 3D – which was a major problem with the first film – has more of a function here and it looks a heck of a lot better.
It’s finally time to realize that Blue Sky – the studio also behind the Ice Age franchise, Epic, and Robots – does things differently from other animation studios. Their mandate seems to be skewing to as young and audience as possible and to never really challenge the kids in the audience by making them think about what they see. They don’t even necessarily want to engage with them beyond just letting them have some fun for 90 minutes. Next to the first Ice Age (which hinted at a great deal of potential that just never got followed through on), Rio 2 is probably the best film they’ve produced. It’s still not a great film, but at least the intent of the studio finally makes sense now.