This year has been an outstanding one for family-friendly movies so far! The LEGO Movie, Mr. Peabody & Sherman and Muppets Most Wanted all turned out to be just as entertaining for adults as they were for children, and all of them were exceptionally well-made overall.
Unfortunately, that streak has now been somewhat broken with Rio 2, which feels like the year’s first family-friendly misfire.
While it’s not quite a bad movie, Rio 2 still feels very aggressively mediocre, not to mention messy. It’s clearly an unplanned sequel designed in response to the better-than-expected box office returns of 2011’s original Rio, which it takes a sledgehammer to with its premise, eliminating the idea that protagonists, Blu and Jewel are the world’s last remaining blue spix’s macaws.
Worse still is the fact that much of the surprisingly decent original Rio’s charm and inspiration is now missing, replaced with a scatterbrained storyline and hackneyed, juvenile gags, whenever the sequel is not wallowing in a horrendously tired Meet the Parents-style conflict between father and father-in-law. To avid movie buffs, it won’t be at all surprising that this sequel has been passed between four different writers, who all seemed to have a different idea for the premise in mind.
Thankfully, several performances, musical numbers and a good chunk of dazzling, colourful CG animation salvage the movie enough to make it watchable for adults bringing their children along, especially if they opt for the well-realized 3D cut. If you don’t have the obligation to entertain young’uns however, then you’re better off skipping Rio 2 altogether, as there’s virtually nothing here that most other family-oriented movies haven’t already done, and done better.
Blu and Jewel return to the lead roles of Rio 2, now with three children of their own, Carla, the oldest teenage daughter who likes music, Bia, the middle daughter who is very intelligent, and Tiago, the mischievous youngest child, and only son. That’s literally all of the characterization given to the three children as well. They exist solely to set up and execute throwaway slapstick gags for the most part, and little else.
In fact, even Jewel feels pushed into the background for most of Rio 2. She just floats around as a nagging voice for Blu, and a plot device for the wild blue spix’s macaws meant to provide arbitrary conflict for Blu. Anne Hathaway still gives the voiceover her best efforts, but she just isn’t given anything to do this time. Jewel’s independent, free-spirited and tough love interest role just feels like it’s been diluted to the point of neutralization in this follow-up.
Thankfully, Jesse Eisenberg at least gives Rio 2 a comedic shot-in-the-arm whenever it most needs it. His neurotic schtick still hasn’t gotten old, particularly when Eisenberg manages to effectively sell some otherwise inexplicable gags about his bird character having human comforts in the wild. Eisenberg really is the glue holding the first movie’s cast together, returning in its (massive) entirety for the most part, since Eisenberg’s wit and energy is what prevents most of the character work from just becoming painfully dull.
Most of the returning voice actors are collecting easy paycheques as well. George Lopez, will.i.am. and Jamie Foxx all return to the supporting roles of Rafael the toucan, Nico the canary, and Pedro the cardinal, respectively, but like Jewel, they barely serve any purpose. They have just one of many subplots, involving holding singing auditions, which has literally nothing to do with the rest of the movie beyond trying to force more jokes and musical numbers.
Jemaine Clement’s cockatoo villain, Nigel also returns, though thankfully, like Eisenberg, Clement remains a standout voice actor who steals every scene he’s in. After being rendered flightless following the climax of the original Rio, Nigel, now with his smuggler buddies absent, pursues Blu and co. to exact revenge in yet another subplot that didn’t necessarily need to be there, but at least provides entertaining cutaways and some of the better slapstick jokes, making Nigel’s return ultimately tolerable, and welcome.
By far the most redundant returning characters are Luiz the bulldog, who shows up for a cameo at the beginning and is then quickly abandoned (making for an even easier paycheque for Tracy Morgan), and the original Rio’s human leads, Linda and Tulio. Linda and Tulio are exploring around and making conservation efforts, and don’t even share a scene with Blu and his family until towards the end of the movie. This again makes for a pointless plot arc, and one that only exists so that Rio 2 can have a forced climax with a pointless environmental theme.
Oh, and on that note, Tulio’s incessant, overblown and unrelenting bird imitation remains byfar the most annoying batch of failed jokes in the entire movie, just like the original unfortunately.
On the bright side, the new characters in Rio 2 are at least quite well-done, making you wonder why Blue Sky Studios didn’t just have faith in the new additions, and felt the need to rope back absolutely everyone from the original.
Kristin Chenoweth is a particular standout amongst the new vocals, voicing poison dart frog, Gabi, who is perpetually infatuated with Nigel, leading to all sorts of great jokes, and an outrageously funny musical number early on, ‘Poisonous Love’. You actually successfully feel for the character throughout the movie too, since she can’t touch anyone without poisoning and killing them, leaving her lovesick and surprisingly sympathetic as much as a funny supporting antagonist.
Andy Garcia does what he can as patriarchal macaw, Eduardo, with his tired, predictable and redundant animosity towards Blu as the weak, pampered son-in-law that is unfit for his daughter, Jewel, and he at least manages to play off of Eisenberg’s energy well. More successful however is Bruno Mars, delivering a surprisingly entertaining turn as Jewel’s hunky childhood friend, Roberto, who actually has Eduardo’s approval, and appears much more outwardly capable and talented than Blu, even having Blu and Jewel’s children take a quick liking to him.
Given how much I’ve had to write here however, you can probably already see just how much Rio 2 is packed with too many subplots that are all fighting for an audience’s attention. It’s well and good for child viewers, who likely have shorter attention spans anyway, but for adults, Rio 2 constantly feels like it’s going off-track with its characters. Many parents and general animated movie enthusiasts will likely just be bored as Rio 2 constantly stumbles around, simply tapping their feet while they wait for the plot to get back to the characters that they actually care about.
With the overloaded cast and meandering story, Rio 2’s characters also feel way too thinly-characterized, existing as little more than celebrity voiceovers that try and fill theatre seats. Blu, Roberto, Gabi and Nigel are at least passable exceptions that feel better-developed as fun personalities in the sequel, but they’re just a small part of an over-crowded and frequently shallow cast of forgettable characters.
Rio 2 seemed to start out with one core idea; Migrate Blu and his family to the wild, and have them learn that there are other blue spix’s macaws in existence. Putting aside the fact that this dumps all over the original movie’s charming premise, it simply tries to recreate the first Rio’s core conflict with Blu on a much grander scale. This seems to further the idea that Rio was originally supposed to be a standalone movie, before it made money at the box office, and Blue Sky Studios appeared to look at it as the next prospective Ice Age franchise.
Given that the script has been passed around to so many writers, this simple, albeit slightly rehashed conflict has been peppered with all sorts of mis-matched ideas to try and stitch together a feature-length kids’ flick. What’s the point of singing auditions for the next Rio Carnival? What’s the point of Tulio and Linda pointlessly and stupidly provoking illegal loggers? What’s the point of a rivalry between blue and red spix’s macaws? What’s the point of Nigel wanting to exact redundant revenge on Blu with the help of a comical, mute anteater and an obsessively devoted poison dart frog? Who cares! It eats up screentime, right?
In fact, if you edited out the scenes that served no purpose to the storyline, Rio 2 would probably be cut in half, at least! The title doesn’t even make sense any longer, since the characters only spend around the first seven minutes or so in Brazil, migrating to The Amazon for the rest of proceedings.
What’s even more frustrating is that the story elements and character arcs that are actually good often have shallow, lazy resolutions attached to the tail end of them. Whenever a promising conflict or interesting plot turn is set up, the movie finds a way to make it illogical and stupid in the end. Even some of the more pointless plot arcs are just swept under the rug when it comes time to have everyone come together for a ridiculous climax that marks the point where Rio 2 officially throws up its hands and completely stops trying.
There’s still enough here to prevent the entire story from becoming a chore, but Rio 2 quickly becomes a very uneven experience. Moviegoers will often find the focus yanked away from a good part of the story right as they’re starting to enjoy it, forcing them to suffer more filler, and potentially waiting up to twenty minutes for another good part to come again.
It’s also telling when the movie actually has to cut away from its core story to provide more jokes and musical numbers, both things that came naturally in the superior first movie. If a sequel lacks inspiration to this degree, why was it made in the first place?! Beyond money, I mean!
Of course, kids won’t care about this. Most children will simply be entertained by the colourful animation and still-solid musical numbers, when they do remember to show up. Adults however will just find themselves looking at their cellphone clocks far too much of the time in Rio 2, and wishing they were in a repeat viewing of The LEGO Movie instead.
Carlos Saldanha returns to direct the sequel, at least helping to capture some degree of the same charm, colour and rhythm that the first Rio did so well. As much as that first movie was a passion project for Saldanha however, he seems to struggle more with realizing the sequel. Granted, this isn’t his fault, as the script he was handed was no doubt a mess.
Saldanha at least makes sure that the movie is watchable and eye-catching to the best of his ability, and generally places a good musical sequence or a solid set of jokes whenever parents would be inclined to otherwise fall asleep. Sure, a lot of this still amounts to filler, but at least it’s not bad filler.
Rio 2 at least feels like it has some sense of polish, and wasn’t completely phoned in before its forced climax. This sequel may be a mess, but at least it’s not difficult on the eyes or mind, if that’s any consolation.
The original Rio clearly had a hefty love of rhythm and dance, and at least some of that is maintained in the sequel. The movie at least kicks off on a lively note, just as its predecessor did, with an immediately eye-catching avian dance sequence, even if the sequel ultimately places less emphasis on this kind of fun musical joy compared to the first movie.
With that said however, when musical sequences do show up, they’re still as enjoyable as ever. A couple of the songs are recycled to a degree from the first movie, even if some have slight re-tooling, but the new tunes are effectively funny and uplifting. A particular standout is hearing Jemaine Clement and Kristin Chenoweth hilariously butcher Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’, even if it doesn’t lead to any real payoff beyond eating up more screentime.
The soundtrack is a bit more limited in Rio 2, but at least it’s still entertaining and catchy.
Rio 2 occasionally feels like a bit of a hot mess. You can easily pick apart various things wrong with the plot or characters, but it at least remains a colourful and dazzling experience with an effective share of vitality.
As with the first movie, it’s the musical sequences that provide most of the standout visual moments. This is where the animators can forget about the various problems with the movie’s structure and characterization, and can instead focus on just making a flashy and entertaining sequence to go with a good song. Thankfully, if there’s one part of the crew that really rises to the challenge in making an unfocused sequel like Rio 2 passable, it’s the animation crew.
On this note, the 3D effects remain at their best during the musical moments as well. There are a few fast-paced slapstick moments and action beats, namely a high-flying soccer match between birds, where the 3D is still noticeable and impressive, but it’s during the musical numbers where the 3D really elevates the experience most of all. Brilliant displays of light and colour are realized with little more than bird animation and sunlit environments, and the way that the 3D really makes it all pop off the screen is truly quite exceptional!
Even in 2D, Rio 2 is a visually pleasant movie that at least has plenty of life in it, but as with the first movie, you’ll get the most out of the experience if you watch it in 3D. The 3D effect falls a tad shy of the quality of the first movie in Rio 2, but it’s still better than most of the 3D jobs that Hollywood delivers.
Rio 2 is a disappointing sequel that will at least hold kids’ attention with its flash and style, but offers very little for more discerning adults. A smattering of especially good performances and musical sequences isn’t enough to justify a forced follow-up to a solid original that didn’t really need one.
If Ice Age has taught us anything however, it’s that Blue Sky Studios has an extensive case of sequelitis when it really delivers a hit, even if it means destroying the premise of a movie that could have effectively stood on its own, as Rio could have. Perhaps we should at least be thankful that this wasn’t Ice Age 5 (we can look forward to that in 2016), but like the various Ice Age sequels, Rio 2 unfortunately too often feels like it hurts the legacy of the original, rather than enhancing it.
If you have kids that enjoy going to the movies, Rio 2 isn’t difficult to sit through, but your kids will definitely have a lot more fun with it than you will.
- Sharp animation and 3D
- Good musical numbers
- Some standout voice acting
- Very messy plot
- Mostly poor characterization
- Ruins the original film's charm