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'Rio 2' features terrific cast, beautiful colors, but clustered plot
on April 11, 2014
Animated sequels often suffer from the same amount of scrutiny and criticism as the rest of big Hollywood sequels. It can easily become a daunting task to not only create a successful animated film (which is no guarantee these days), but to also make the sequel as entertaining as the original. Recent and extremely lackluster sequels, such as Cars 2, Shrek the Third, and basically any of the Ice Age sequels have all proved that animated sequels desire a great deal more attention than they are typically given. Still, that’s not to say all animated sequels are sub-par, especially when additions like Toy Story 2, Monsters University, and Despicable Me 2 each managed to find success in the shadow of terrific first outings. But, let’s be honest here – Rio was an average animated feature, and it was certainly no Toy Story, meaning the fact that it was given a sequel screams that there’s currently a serious lack of originality from film studios.
Directed by Carlos Saldanha (Rio, Ice Age), Rio 2 once again stars the voice of Jesse Eisenberg as Blu, the accident-prone house bird from Minnesota. In the first film, Blu found the love of his life, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and now they have a family of their own. They currently live in Rio with Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), who have made their way to the Amazon – and happen to stumble upon the possibility of a new flock of Spix Macaws (they are supposedly nearly extinct). Blu and Jewel witness the discovery on the news and the family heads to the Amazon to help with the search.
After arriving in the Amazon, Blu and the family, accompanied by Rafael the Toucan (George Lopez), Pedro the Cardinal (will.i.am), and Nico the Yellow Canary (Jamie Foxx), quickly discovers that Jewel’s father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), is alive and well. He is the leader of a massive tribe of Spix Macaws, which includes one of Jewels’ childhood friends, Roberto (Bruno Mars) – both of whom find Blu’s domesticated habits to be problematic. And, at the same time, Nigel (Jermaine Clement), the vengeful Cockatoo, and his cohorts, which includes a poisonous frog, Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), follow Blu to the Amazon with the intent to put an end to him.
For an animated sequel, there is a whole lot going on over the course of the film – yet the strangest thing about all of it is the fact that little of the plot-based elements ever fully establishes the sequel with a clear-cut purpose. One minute this story is about whether or not more Spix Macaws exist, then there’s an abrupt and needless love triangle, followed by the close-minded father dictating all the infallible survival rules of the rain forest. Plus, you have the villain from the previous film, Nigel, seeking revenge, not to mention humans knocking down trees and attempting to kill the Amazon’s inhabitants. On top of all of that, there’s supporting cast members conducting talent show interviews, a flock of rival birds creating a turf war, and Linda and Tulio wondering about with a video recorder documenting the couple’s ridiculous adventure. I don’t know about you, but do you think there are enough plotlines stuffed into a roughly 90-minute movie?
Regardless of the plot issues, the cast is by far the bright spot of the film. Jesse Eisenberg is a tremendous actor that channels Blu’s scatter-brained, awkward demeanor perfectly. Eisenberg simply amplifies every role that he’s involved in, and at no point will viewers be disappointed by his acting or voice work (a notion that should be imbedded into the minds of anyone that believes he won’t make an excellent Lex Luthor in the Man of Steel sequel). He also has wonderful chemistry with the absurdly talented Anne Hathaway, who portrays animated bride. Her role appears to be slightly reduced from the first film, which is no surprise with the massive amount of characters incorporated into this sequel. Never the less, Hathaway has a marvelous voice (and if you haven’t fully heard it, you should check out Les Misérables), but it would have been nice had she been given more of a substantial singing role.
Speaking of singing, Kristin Chenoweth steals the show as a love-struck, poisonous frog. She is given not only a charming character, but the major singing role, too. Again, if you haven’t heard her voice in the past, you should make an attempt to purchase one of her outstanding studio albums. Over the course of the film, her character pines for the villainous Nigel, thus creating several of the film’s most humorous moments. The downsize to Chenoweth’s role is that the rest of the supporting cast suffers, especially Tracy Morgan as the slobbering dog, Luiz – who is only in the film’s opening moments. Oddly enough, Morgan’s witty distinctiveness was one of the bright spots of Rio, so his reduced (cameo) role comes as an unfortunate disappointment.
Naturally, a movie titled Rio should probably at least take place in Rio, yet that’s not the case here. The sentiment of the location is fully intact, but like Madagascar, the plot takes the characters to a new, grander location. Naturally, this new direction broadens the landscape of the film’s universe, all while establishing new characters and so on and so forth. Still, if Rio 2 is ultimately a success (and it’s hard to imagine it wouldn’t be), Rio 3 will likely need to create a reason for the characters to migrate back to Rio. Otherwise, Rio 3 could simply change its name to The Jungle Book (never mind, that’s already taken).
Overall, Rio 2 is another beautifully colorful animated feature. Still, it’s not an exceptional sequel, nor is it disappointing, either. The majority of the characters from the first film are back for more fun, albeit with reduced roles. Clearly, the plot of Rio is jumbled, but it’s hard to imagine the kids voicing any kind of complaint. Adults will be entertained, too, but you’ll notice a few oddities in the movie, including the art of “war” being the equivalent of a soccer match, and the blatant message that humans are a danger to the survival of the Amazon. The issue of protecting the rainforests (referred to as “tree hugging” in the movie) serves a vitally important role in the climax of the movie. Regardless of the thematic messages and the fact that the film’s plot is too clustered and overly ambitious, Rio 2 will is still recommended as a safe choice for a family outing.