In the grand scheme of animated family comedies, ‘Rio’ fell right in the middle of mediocrity. The movie had cute animals, celebrity voices and a message about individuality. It was everything that we’ve come to expect with the genre but absolutely nothing new, special or different tossed in. However, simply by virtue of being adequate, the movie was a big worldwide hit. (See the ‘Ice Age’ series for more.) And so, three years later, we’re all being treated to ‘Rio 2’ on virtually the exact same day that the original was released.
That mirrored release schedule is a good indication of what to expect from the sequel itself. It’s more of the same. No better, no worse. It’s not really bad and it’s not really good. It’s just adequate. Now there’s a poster quote for ya!
Our awkward bird hero Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) has settled down with his beloved Jewel (Anne Hathaway). They have kids. All seems well. But then they see a news report claiming that biologists have discovered a flock of their endangered species hidden in the Amazon. Deciding that it would be worth spending a little time with the remainder of their kind, the whole family heads out. Once there, they not only discover a hidden flock of their birds, it’s even run by Jewel’s long lost poppa Eduardo (Andy Garcia).
From there, the movie turns into a good old-fashioned culture clash comedy where the fannypack sporting city boy Blu must prove himself worthy of living with his in-laws. Think ‘Meet the Parents’ with birds. On top of that, Blu and Jewel’s human owners also trek out to the Amazon to fight against evil human land developers who want to destroy the jungle for profit. (Oh no!) Plus, there’s a jungle talent show for some reason. Evil parrot Nigel (Jemaine Clement from ‘Flight of the Conchords’) returns as well, even though the plot has no room for him.
For the adults suckered into seeing ‘Rio 2’, it’s actually a relief that Clement returns despite the fact that his character is completely superfluous to the main story. His delightfully pretentious Shakespeare-loving bird and the poison frog Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), who is inexplicably in love with him, offer the most genuine and consistent laughs in the movie. Their characters light up the screen whenever they appear, which is great news because everything else about the movie merely goes through the motions. Sure, the animation is beautiful and the rain forest setting allows for some stunning 3D visuals, but the comedy and environmental preachiness are so tiresome that you can actually here the narrative bones creaking from old age if you listen hard enough.
Granted, the target audience is likely too young to notice or care, and should eat up the sequel as heartily as they did the first one. It’s just a shame for everyone else that all of the hard work by the animators and star-name voice cast goes to waste on a project so predictable. ‘Rio 2’ is the very definition of middle-of-the-road family entertainment. There’s nothing wrong with that, and it certainly serves a purpose as big screen babysitting. However, CGI-animated features are starting to become as formulaic as the 1990s traditional animated features they killed off. If studios don’t start putting more effort into writing these movies soon, they just might face extinction as well.