Sitting squarely in the territory of inoffensive product for children, Rio, much like its close cousins in the Ice Age franchise, was visually extravagant thanks to animation’s countless unsung artists, and narratively generic thanks to the cumulative cultural effect of a million extension courses in screenwriting. This formula allowed it to make almost $500 million worldwide. Now quickly, name a beloved character from it and engage in a real time discussion about its plot. If you guessed “that one bird,” “something about a jungle” and/or “believing in yourself,” that’s close enough.
A sequel to something like this just needs more stuff packed into it. So more stuff is packed into Rio 2, both the good and the you’ll-never-remember-it. Domesticated book-learnin’ Blu (the voice of Jesse Eisenberg) and his wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) now have three baby birds of their own, live in a nice house, and know how to make pancake batter as well as how to operate spatulas, which is, I suppose, a step up from a diet of regurgitated worms. Naturally, this sort of suburban comfiness can only generate malaise, and that prompts the entire family to fly back into the wild. There they discover a huge flock of Blue Macaws like themselves, presided over by Jewel’s long lost father (Andy Garcia), a Great Santini-esque alpha male who never misses an opportunity to remind Blu that he’s soft.
The good-hearted, endangered species-minded humans from the last film (Rodrigo Santoro, Leslie Mann) hunt for their "lost" bird-friends, an illegal logging operation (“Tree huggers!” snarls heartless boss Miguel Ferrer) wants to ruin the rainforest, and Blu's vengeance-minded enemy Nigel the parrot (Jemaine Clement) -- assisted by a lovestruck poisonous tree frog assistant (Kristin Chenoweth) -- is out to get our hero. And there’s a talent show going on. And Will.i.Am is running it. And Bruno Mars is a bird that sings. So is Rita Moreno. And Janelle Monae is somewhere in all this, too. Meanwhile, Tracy Morgan is still that bulldog from the first movie, but his purpose remains unclear.
The production numbers swoop in every so often to save the film from its useless commitment to being about something, and they’re terrific distractions. Wild, geometric, Busby Berkeley-style arrangements of swirling beaks and feathers almost make the 3D worth paying for. And Kristin Chenoweth’s “Poisonous Love” number is the Bizarro Broadway highlight of the entire movie. And then they’re over; the film grinds its gears back into long and winding plot and, aside from a few uncomfortable “circle of life” moments, every non-musical minute of talky screen time feels like a fidgety waiting room eternity.
There’ll be a Rio 3. Probably a Rio 4. They will be brightly colored and not bother anyone. They may even wind up financially supporting a worthwhile environmental fund along the way, who knows. They’ll definitely employ a lot of animators and post-production people. They’ll keep Will.i.Am busy. You’ll simultaneously remember them somewhat fondly and also not remember much about them at all. “That one bird,” you’ll think, “he was ok.”