The first "Rio" movie was a fairly mediocre animated affair that skated on the charms of its lead voice talents Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway and Leslie Mann. The brightly colored animals and occasional wide overhead shots of Rio almost canceled out the plastic-looking humans, threadbare story and attempts to coolify the film with the presence of will.i.am and Jamie Foxx who perform songs like "Hot Wings (I Wanna Party)." Jemaine Clement stole every scene as a dastardly cockatoo named Nigel. Eisenberg played up his high-strung persona as Blu, a rare Macaw kept as a pet by Linda (Mann) in Minnesota, while Hathaway got to act a little spicy as Jewel, the only other blue Macaw around. There was a small message about the dangers of extinction and animal preservation, with menacing Brazilian animal-nappers getting outsmarted by Linda and an ornithologist named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro).
It was fine. Nothing more, nothing less.
The idea behind "Rio 2" seems to be that more is more is better, but it's not; it's just more. The overwhelming feeling one gets from watching "Rio 2" is a strange combination of mental exhaustion and boredom. There was something about finding your family and the evils of rainforest loggers and insecurity over one's identity and/or "birdliness." There's even a "Voice"-like competition that climaxes with Nigel, now flightless and embittered, singing "I Will Survive." (Actually, most of the scenes with Nigel are better than anything else the movie has to offer.) And there are cute baby blue Macaws, courtesy of Blu and Jewel, and by proxy, the efforts of Linda and Tulio to keep blue Macaws from going extinct. What a double date.
There are more birds, more roles voiced by famous musicians like Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe, more musical numbers, and more half-baked attempts at political insight or relevance without really saying or doing much of anything at all. The mostly harmless animal advocacy of "Rio" is expanded to include rainforest logging and the very real damage that humans do to the environment. All good topics for small viewers to think about, yes, but the solution "Rio 2" presents is nothing short of ludicrous, if not downright irresponsible. Animated films aren't obligated to have some big social message message, but if you're going to do it, follow through with something that's actually possible in the real world, or even something that kids could get involve with themselves.
Blue Sky Studios is no Pixar, but who is? The studio is behind one of the more popular animated franchise of recent years, "Ice Age" and its four follow-ups. The studio's talent seems to be in animating animals and assorted non-human creatures, because the character designs for the humans in "Rio 2" aren't that distinguishable from the first movie, which was released in 2011. The wide shots of Rio and the Amazon rainforest look lovely, although 3D doesn't add too much. Director Carlos Saldanha's love for his native Rio shines through, but that's not quite enough to save the messy, sprawling story. Luckily, there's still an Angry Birds Rio update to look forward to.