There’s not much new but a lot that’s vibrantly blue in Rio 2, the sequel to Fox’s ultracolourful 3-D animated 2011 film, about a domestic macaw, Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and his relationship with a Brazilian jungle bird, Jewel (Anne Hathaway).
The new movie, which offers no backstory for the uninitiated, opens with Blu, Jewel and their three chicks living in odd-couple sitcom domestic bliss in Rio, where the mother macaw tries, in vain, to teach the kids a natural lifestyle: Fewer pancakes, more Brazil nuts.
When Blu’s former owner, Linda (Leslie Mann) and her zoologist husband Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) discover evidence of other blue macaws in the jungle, Jewel sees her chance. She convinces Blu and the kids to make the 2,000 mile journey into the rainforest. Coming along for the trip are three of the friends from the first film, toucan Rafael (George Lopez), and rapping cardinal, Pedro (will.i.am) and canary Nico (Jamie Foxx), while the slobbery bulldog, Luiz (Tracy Morgan) stays behind.
It turns out the flock includes some of Jewel’s family, who she thought had been exterminated. That includes her father, proud tribal leader, Eduardo (Andy Garcia). The comedy here is essentially a feathered version of Meet the Fockers, as the nerdy Blu’s attempts to ingratiate himself with the skeptical Eduardo. That requires trying to hide his reliance on creature comforts (GPS, electric tooth brush, fanny pack). As well as his embarrassing history as a “pet,” Blu is hopelessly outclassed by Roberto (Bruno Mars), Jewel’s childhood sweetheart, with a divine singing voice, a state-of-the-art nest and champion fighting skills.
Rio 2 (like Fox’s Ice Age series) relies on derivative plotting and slapstick visual gags, in contrast to Pixar’s more cerebral originality. Where the film excels though, in an even more pronounced way than the first film, is in the choreographed animation for the musical numbers.
The dance sequences begin with the film’s opening New Year’s Eve celebration where the camera pans up from the Rio harbour in a throbbing mass of humanity, with birds flitting above among the coloured confetti and fireworks. From there on, at regular five-minute intervals, there’s another production number. The bossa nova/samba score includes selections from Milton Nascimento, Carlinhos Brown and executive music producer, Sergio Mendes, with cast members Bruno Mars adding some R&B thrills and Kristin Chenoweth providing her showtune belting.
The superiority of the musical sequences, and laziness of the writing, creates a dynamic where you find yourself wishing the characters would shut up and dance. The worst fault here is a surfeit of villains, introducing a fresh peril every few minutes. The roster includes a logging magnate and his team of bulldozer driving thugs. More fun is the villain left over from the first movie, the Sidney Greenstreet-like cockatoo, Nigel (Jemaine Clements), who, with his poison-frog sidekick (Kristin Chenoweth) and a Chaplin-impersonating ant-eater, plot Blu and Jewel’s demise. Add to the enemy list a tribe of red macaws, ready for a rumble at the first case of an encroachment on their Brazil nut grove, though it turns out the battle is a form of aerial soccer which resembles Harry Potter’s Quidditch.
Among the fresh villains, the stand-out is easily Chenoweth as the teeny pink, shrill-voiced poisonous frog, Gabi. Though profoundly in love with the narcissistic cuckoo, Nigel, she is unable to touch him because of her poisonous skin. (There’s a nice moment when she catches a tear before it can reach him). Chenoweth has one big solo number (Poisonous Love) and a duet with Clements, on his lip-smackingly campy rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive.
As with the previous Rio, director Carlos Saldhana and his animation team are exhaustively creative with the use of aerial scenes in 3-D format and the teeming jungle and favela backdrops. Even if the story occasionally feels like mental clutter, visually Rio 2 is consistently complex and elegant.
Follow me on Twitter: @LiamLacey