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Review | Uninspired and Tedious, ‘Rio 2′ Misses the Mark

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I don’t know if it’s the movies that have changed, or it’s me, but with a handful of exceptions, animated offerings seem to have gotten progressively worse over the past few years. Where Pixar’s reign came to an unceremonious end and Dreamworks’ pop-savvy style quickly grew stale, their competition – studios like Illumination and Blue Sky — feverishly tried to emulate their more successful efforts, with diminishing returns. And Rio 2, Blue Sky’s latest, feels like a pipeline of cash funneled into computers with the hopes of earning more cash, as opposed to a film, sure, even a sequel, inspired by anything as highfalutin’ as a real or good idea.

A shamelessly uninspired follow-up to the 2011 hit movie, Carlos Saldanha’s latest is just plain tedious – a boring, overly familiar pastiche of sitcom problems, acted out by annoying animals, and scored with music that should make it all feel invigorating, not infuriating.

Jesse Eisenberg reprises his role as Blu, the macaw who won the heart of Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the last remaining female of his species, and now lives in domestic bliss with their three children. Dismayed over her family’s acclimation to the creature comforts of humankind, Jewel suggests that they take a vacation to the Amazon, where Blu’s owner Linda (Leslie Mann) and her husband Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) claim to have found evidence of other macaws. Strapping on a fanny pack and clutching his GPS, Blu leads them towards their caretakers, only to discover a community of macaws – including Jewel’s father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) — who have successfully hidden themselves from the human world.

Pressured to meet the expectations of his disapproving father in law, Blu struggles to overcome his privileged upbringing, even as Jewel and their kids settle into the macaw community easily. But when the twin threats of an evil industrialist (Miguel Ferrer) and an old adversary (Jemaine Clement) encroach on his new life, Blu is forced to decide between the cushy world of his human owner or the untamed wild the lurks beneath his fussy exterior.

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Opening with a giant dance number that serves no purpose other than to mimic the beginning of the first film, Rio 2 tries to flesh out its feeble story with a glut of Brazilian music – which might be a good thing if almost all of it weren’t produced by Will.i.am. The former Black Eyed Peas frontman collaborates once again with Sergio Mendes to mash up bossa nova, r&b and hip-hop into a frothy confection, producing a backdrop for the action that’s full of empty calories, and even sadder, utterly bland taste. Schizophrenically throwing in showtunes (“Memories”), hardcore hip-hop verses and beats (“Look At Me Now,” “Tell Me When To Go”) and disco anthems (“I Will Survive”), the soundtrack feels like a willful distraction from the fact that there’s nothing going on in front of it other than hackneyed plot points.

The dynamic between Blu and Eduardo feels like a bird-brianed spin on Meet the Parents, but even those three terrible films didn’t spell out the conflict as nakedly as writers Saldanha and Don Rhymer do here, spoon-feeding the audience new ideas and developments exactly as one-dimensional as the characters acting them out. To Saldanha’s credit, Blu is more reasonable and resourceful than basically any of the other characters, but that’s not saying much in a film where his counterparts are provincial and threatened by literally anything that challenges their perception of the world.

Meanwhile, Linda is on the receiving end of abominable negligence and condescension by Tulio, who takes credit for their macaw discovery and otherwise pursues ornithology with the clear-eyed passion of Mr. Magoo. Precisely why the human lead in the first film is reduced to a supporting character – even among other humans – makes no sense, but the fact that it’s handled with such thoughtless sexism borders on the offensive. It would seem that no matter what role she plays in a film now, Mann is automatically relegated to the role of shrill spouse or support system for her male counterparts, and it’s sad to see an actress with so much talent wasted playing a character with so little to do.

The comic relief of the supporting (animal) character basically exists to pad the film out to feature length, and interject the clichéd story with an occasional jolt of energy. But the only character worth caring about other than Blu and his family is Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), a poisonous tree frog who’s hopelessly infatuated with Clement’s scheming cockatoo, Nigel; where the other characters operate according to the demands of the plot, there’s genuine pathos beneath Gabi’s overwrought affections, especially given the fact that she’s unable to touch anyone without killing them.

That said, if you’re unaware that the deforestation of the Amazon is a big problem, and the displacement of indigenous species is a bad thing, then this film might resonate more strongly with you than it did with me. But animated films, or family films in general, shouldn’t serve as training-wheel versions of “adult” stories – they need to work on their own, and God forbid, exude a shred of creativity, if not originality. And Saldanha’s sequel feels like a self-indulgent, stockholder baiting product rather than an earnest (much less effective) next chapter in the lives of beloved characters. Ultimately, Rio 2 is just kind of insufferable – a mishmash of hackwork clichés, mindless comic relief and heavy-handed environmental messages that adds up to a ton of color smashing into a wall of sound, creating nothing but audiovisual noise.

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Comments

  • MVW

    A very sexist movie against males

  • John Cap

    After reading this, there are so many problems with this review in my eyes. Judging by that 1st paragraph about how animation has gotten worse (in your eyes), it seems you’re the wrong person to be reviewing animated films since most films you see, you automatically dislike. You were also misinformed about the soundtrack because Will.I.am had NOTHING to do with the soundtrack. Sérgio Mendes and John Powell produced the soundtrack. You also never properly explained why the soundtrack was bland to you especially when most critics and audiences actually liked the music. If you’re going to go against the general consensus on something, you need to back up your claim with reasons. This can also be said when you claimed that Blu’s “counterparts are provincial and threatened by literally anything that challenges their perception of the world”. Can you give us an example? I didn’t see any characters who acted like this when I saw the film. Your complaint with Linda also makes no sense since Linda was a supporting character in the 1st film, and the film wasn’t being sexist towards her character. It was shown in the film that Linda and Tulio are a duo, not a monarchy where Tulio is the leader. I also disagree with your claim at the end that all family films must be creative and original. Maybe for you, but for me, I don’t think that way. Target audience is the biggest reason why. Most audiences that are going to watch animated or family films are kids who bring their families along. These are essentially casual audiences who aren’t hardcore movie goers. They don’t watch these kinds of films for the story, they watch them for the entertaining characters, great musical numbers, beautiful animation and effects, and for important family values and messages. Most animated and family film classics never had an original premise. They were just fun for the whole family. So stop trying to push family films into the serious and original tone that most live action films have nowadays. Maybe you should just stop reviewing animated films since you seem to not pay attention to them enough to do a FAIR review. Honestly, this “review” looks more like a rant to me.