‘Rio’ Franchise Heads South With Sequel

1.5 Stars

Rio 2, Brazilian-native Carlos Saldanha’s follow up to his hugely successful Rio, takes place partly, of course, in Rio de Janeiro. The film tells the story of Blu (voiced by Jessie Eisenberg), a macaw bird, who travels with his family to the Amazon to be with the rest of his kind. This is a Rio we haven’t quite seen before, however. Unlike the slum-filled city portrayed in City of God (2002) or The Incredible Hulk (2008), Saldanha’s Rio de Janeiro exudes happiness and cleanliness. In the opening sequence, Blu and his friends dance and sing on top of the Christ the Redeemer statue, with twinkling Rio below them, beautifully lit in New Years fireworks.

The beginning of the film finds Blu happily married to Jewel (Anne Hathaway), another macaw, together raising three young offspring. Soon they discover that there are more of their endangered kind living in the Amazon rainforest 2,000 miles away, and Jewel decides that it’s time to take their family on a trip to the jungle. Their three children are up for the vacation, but ol’ Blu finds himself tied to the human life to which he has grown accustomed, bringing along a fanny pack stuffed with a string of humorously unnecessary items, including a malfunctioning GPS system, breath mints, a Swiss army knife, and a mechanical toothbrush.

Coming along for the trip are Blu’s fun-loving companions, a toucan named Raphael (George Lopez), and a musical duo composed of a cardinal named Pedro (will.i.am) and a canary named Nico (Jamie Foxx). Upon arriving in the overwhelmingly colorful depths of the Amazon, Jewel finds that the family she thought was dead is actually alive and well. Her father and ruler of the land, Eduardo (Andy Garcia) is overjoyed by his daughter’s return, but finds himself less than pleased with her human-friendly husband. Also there to greet her on her return is her former childhood playmate, Roberto (Bruno Mars), whose serenades and flirtatious tone with Jewel make Blu jealous.

By now, the film’s overstuffed cast turns the film more into a “I know that voice” distraction, and it overshadows the predictable storyline that ensues. The screenwriters must be big fans of Meet the Parents (2000), because their stories from here on out are almost interchangeable. Blue finds himself unable to cut ties with his human ways, to the constant disapproval of Eduardo and the rest of the tribe. Everything he does seems to be the wrong thing, from proudly parading around in his fanny pack to starting war with a neighboring tribe of birds.

The tribe soon finds its sanctuary threatened by malicious loggers attempting to cut down its part of the forest, a predictable human threat to this animal-centered film (think: Finding Nemo with the divers who capture Nemo as the antagonists). There’s also a bit with a revenge-seeking cockatoo-accompanied by a pink poisonous frog as its weapon-who seeks the death of Blu after he inadvertently caused the clipping of the cockatoo’s wings in the last film. Kristen Chenoweth’s short appearance as the frog winds up providing the most pleasing musical number, with a twistedly humorous rendition of “Poisonous Love.”

Ultimately, Saldanha packs his film too full of only half-amusing subplots with underdeveloped and generic characters. He tries to distract the audience with a few lackluster musical numbers and a star-studded cast, which will surely be enough for the kids, but his film lacks the shrewdness of a Despicable Me (2010) and the musical talent of a Frozen (2013). Surely, the promoters of the World Cup, which plays in Rio de Janeiro in June, will be pleased with this portrayal of the city, but Saldanha doesn’t quite live up to his original in this uninspired sequel, and, while brief, the 96-minute film start to drag as the end draws close.