April 15, 2014
"Rio 2" takes Blu and Jewel, now parents of three young ones, from the comforts of Rio de Janeiro, deep into the tropical rain forests of the Amazon River. There, Jewel gets reunited with her kin and old friends, and the kids all get excited with their new jungle experience. However, purely city-bred Blu, ever dependent on his fanny pack and trusty GPS, had the most difficult time fitting in. But true to his dictum of "Happy wife, happy life", Blu still gives it a valiant effort.
Jesse Eisenberg totally transforms himself here as the voice of Blu. It can be argued that this actor seems to be the playing the same person in all of his movies. Even if Blu was also neurotic and insecure like many of his characters in the past, he managed not to sound like the usual Jesse Eisenberg we know from his other film roles.
Anne Hathaway voiced Blu's wife Jewel. Her character was rather standard, not too much of a departure from what she does. More distinctive voice work were that of Andy Garcia as Jewel's father, the formidably regal Eduardo, and that of Bruno Mars as the suave, crested lover-bird Roberto. There was also a more minor auntie macaw character played by Ms. Rita Moreno. Too bad we did not get to hear her sing more.
One subplot involved illegal loggers intent on clearing the rain forest of precious lumber. Blu's human friends Linda and Tulio try to stop them, but were obviously outnumbered. This angle provided the film with its serious moments of environmental concern. The scene showing the raped forest as a bare, cleared-out brown wasteland was a tear-jerker. Of course, this has been a common theme in several films set in the wilderness, like "Avatar" or the latest animated incarnation of "Tarzan".
The other subplot was a vengeful cockatoo named Nigel, who has lost his ability to fly from an accident in the first "Rio" film because of Blu. His henchmen included a dancing anteater named Charlie and an infatuated pink poisonous frog named Gabi. Nigel and Gabi, despite being the antagonists, provide the film with two of the more memorable song numbers. Gabi (voiced by Kristen Chenowith) shone with a bittersweet love song entitled "Poisonous Love". Nigel (voiced by Jemaine Clement) had a riotous take on the disco classic "I Will Survive".
The animation was very vivid and colorful. The nature scenes with the rain forest and the birds and creatures that inhabit it were so vital and alive. The renditions of the animals were all delightfully cute for the younger audiences. Aside from the birds, anteater and frog, we also see capybara (which I did not imagine could be so cute), porcupine, monkeys, snakes, piranha and turtles (who were into Capoeira, slow motion, of course).
The rich and happy culture of Brazil were in full display in this film. The film opens with a sequence of huge New Year's Eve party right on Ipanema Beach. There would be auditions (held by birds voiced by will.i.am and Jamie Foxx) for a Carnival show, which would set the scene for various entertaining musical numbers. There is also a thrilling football match between blue vs. red macaws which was excellently executed.
I did not get to watch the first Rio film, but my kids did, and they wanted to watch this sequel. Upon watching this, this film talks about a whole different adventure with the lead blue spix macaw characters. The few flashback references from the first film seemed adequately clear enough for those for which Rio 2 is the first Rio film they will see. I did not have to know much about the first film to enjoy this one. And enjoy it I did, very much. 7/10.