Review: Rio 2 / Cert: U / Director: Carlos Saldanha / Screenplay: Don Rhymer, Jenny Bicks, Yoni Brenner, Carlos Kotkin / Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Bruno Mars, Leslie Mann, Jemaine Clement / Release Date: Out Now
Back in 2011, Carlos Saldanha’s colourful animated adventure Rio became a surprise hit, generating almost $500 million worldwide. So of course a sequel had to come flapping into cinemas. Rio hardly broke new ground but it was beautifully animated, vibrant, family aimed fun and this sequel is more of the same for fans. Where many sequels either lazily cash in or try to do too much, Saldanha approaches this follow up with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Rio 2 is by no means a revelation but it is a very enjoyable adventure all the same. Many will expect a film of the same breed as the first and in many ways this is what you get, albeit with some rather unexpected influences.
We catch up with nervy rare Spix’s Macaws Blu (Eisenberg) and his wife Jewel (Hathaway) plus family and friends in Rio de Janeiro. However when their human owners find evidence of more Spix’s Macaws in the Amazon, the blue-feathered family embark on a journey of family, danger and spirit. Rio 2 follows the same blueprint as the first, with numerous musical numbers and parade-like bursts of colourful set-pieces working their way into a rather simple plot. The film borrows heavily from the family film rulebook with the same old judgemental families, charismatic ex-boyfriends and issues of self-belief all being touched upon. This does not aspire beyond the treetops but it does come with environmentalist baggage that reminds (oddly) of Avatar. In fact a few visual touches are almost like feather-clad counterparts of James Cameron’s meta-blockbuster. This is especially the case in the film’s human vs. nature climax, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the battle of Pandora.
This being said, things float gracefully enough along and while some of the script misses the mark, the goodwill is hard to hate. Certain aspects, like the addition of the showy Macaw Roberto (Mars) annoy and there are a few subplots – mainly Rafael (George Lopez), Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro’s (Will.i.am) Amazonian talent scouting – that feel a bit forced. But the characters remain interesting and likeable and the voicework is well cast. As for the villains, ruthless loggers, one of whom has a lollipop fixation and a nasty pet monkey (what’s not to like?), take up main baddie duties but it is the returning Nigel (Clement) who shines (even better than last time too). Even if he is a touch underused.
In the last film Nigel, an evil thespian sulphur-crested cockatoo, was rendered flightless and in this sequel he looks to get revenge. Clement is hilarious, perfecting the seething Shakespearian villainy of the character and the new addition of his poisonous frog sidekick/love interest Gabbi (Kristen Chenoweth) is an excellent move. Nigel steals the movie, offering a far more interesting revenge plot than some of the main family-centric occurrences of the movie. Still, kids will delight at Rio 2 and adults will likely enjoy the breezy inoffensiveness of it all and the film’s well-intentioned message of respecting the natural world. The musical numbers are mostly great fun, aside from the odd strained track, and don’t hamper the overall momentum (the best song is “Poisonous Love”, the ballad-like number between Chenoweth and Clement).
The Rio series, if indeed that is where we are heading, is not the most absorbing, meaningful or impacting animated franchise but it is not unwelcome either. True this sequel dances to many of the same beats but its heart is brimming and when its better qualities shine, the family entertainment is hard to beat (or should that be hard to beak). Sure the film goes all Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa in many senses (for starters, like that film, it isn’t set in its title's location) but it is a far more solid sequel than that and while not revitalising the formula, Rio 2 is a fun follow-up that is a bit better than expected. Enjoyable, well-animated, humorous fun and Nigel alone makes this worth the watch.
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10