The animation is fine, but Rio 2 is bland, not very funny, and even poorly plotted.
There is a recurring phenomenon in Disney animated features that I like to call Disney Sidekick Syndrome. In brief: Most Disney animated features – of any vintage – tend to bolster their human protagonists with a whole bevvy of wise-cracking, chittering non-human ancillary characters. Some of these characters are memorable and fun (I know many people are fond of Timon and Pumbaa), but the bulk of them are pretty disposable (I can’t even remember the names of the animals in Pocahontas, for instance). Olaf from Frozen has been accused by both sides.
Rio 2, the latest animated film from Blue Sky Studios and directed by Carlos Saldanha, seems to be the first animated feature I’ve seen that is constructed of nothing but sidekick characters. The cast consists of an enormous ensemble of talking birds, all of whom cleave to their own internal plotlines, all appearing only to make a few pop-culture-related wisecracks before sauntering off to the next set of characters. It’s like a madly spinning plotline roulette with evil loggers, concerned human conservationists, blue parrots, red parrots, and evil cockatoos, each equipped with their own sidekicks. The result is a chaotic and incoherent mess of a film that, while colorful, lacks wit, grace, and charm. Frantic can work to comedic effect in certain films (see The LEGO Movie), but often it just spells exhausting breathlessness. I saw the film sitting near a four-year-old boy, and even he grew a little restless after a while.
Our main character is Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), the only male Blue Spix Macaw in the world, who, in the previous film, managed to meet and mate with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) the only female Blue Spix Macaw in the world. He was neurotic, she free-spirited. In Rio 2 , Blue and Jewel have a trio of hip-talking, iPod-listening parrot youths rolling around at their feet. I don’t know what law of Hollywood filmmaking dictated that kid films need to have hip-talking supporting kid characters in them, but it’s a misguided practice that seems to be constantly in play. To illustrate how misguided: What kid characters can you remember from any of your own childhood favorite films? I can think of one: Poltergeist. Unless a kid film is specifically about children (say, The Sandlot or The Monster Squad), the child characters rarely stand out.
When Blu and Jewel receive word that there may be a secret clutch of hidden Spix Macaws deep in the Amazon, they pack up the kids and trundle off with a slew of “funny” sidekicks in tow, including Jamie Foxx, Tracy Morgan, George Lopez, and will.i.am. They discover said clutch of birds, including a stern father (Andy Garcia), a charming best friend (Bruno Mars), and a tittering auntie (Rita Moreno). Will the city-mouse parrot fit in as easily as his wife and kids, or will he be too dorky to get along? There are showbiz auditions, conflicts with the new family, and a turf war with the local Red Macaws over the control of Brazil nuts. Also, the forest itself is threatened by an evil logger (Miguel Ferrer), and protected by a pair of friendly bird enthusiasts (Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro).
Oh yes, and the ancillary villains: Jemaine Clement returns from the first Rio as a crippled cockatoo with acting aspirations (?), who has sworn revenge on Blu. He travels with a silent Buster Keaton-type anteater, and a hyperactive Broadway-ready poison dart frog played by Kristin Chenoweth. It’s a pity that the cockatoo wasn’t in the film more, as his forthright theatricality was the funniest thing in the movie (“We strike at midnight! Because it’s more evil!”). And Chenoweth is particularly energized as the frog smitten with her boss; Chenoweth even gets a song, and the woman can’t help but sell every silly syllable of it.
Rio 2 is a shrill and frustratingly unfunny film that is constructed largely of padding. Indeed, the overabundance of padding, asides, ancillary characters, and extraneous plotlines only serve to highlight how weak the main story is. Rio 2 provides a few limp chuckles, but is largely just forgettable.
Rating: 1.5 Burritos