Rio 2: Film Review

This rumble in the jungle adds a colorful cast of rain-forest creatures to the franchise's infectious sense of frivolity.

Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg and Jemaine Clement return for Carlos Saldanha’s sequel, joined by Kristin Chenoweth and Andy Garcia.

Again pegging its 3D Rio series to an April release date, 20th Century Fox Animation looks set to benefit from the final weeks of the spring break holiday period as vacations draw to a close. Despite recent uneven response to family-friendly animated fare from an over-saturated demographic, the sequel stands to capitalize on strong franchise recognition and association with the studio's hugely popular Ice Age movies, also directed by Rio 2's Carlos Saldanha.

As Fox continues to roll out its international release following the film's March 27 opening in Brazil, it can aspire to notch in the neighborhood of the original's $486 million tally, although a larger share of Rio 2's total take can probably be expected from home-entertainment formats. Rio's impressive voice cast returns for the second outing largely intact, augmented by some notable additions, including Andy Garcia as a patriarchal parrot and singer-songwriter Bruno Mars in a tunefully comedic role. Although the significance of some of the musical and visual references may not register with the youngest viewers, there's plenty here to attract both kids and adults alike in Saldanha's colorful imagining of the Amazon rain forest's avian communities.

AUDIO: Kristin Chenoweth, Jemaine Clement Cover 'I Will Survive' on 'Rio 2' Soundtrack

Opening with one of the movie's frequent musical numbers, Rio 2 finds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) settled down with mate Jewel (Anne Hathaway) in Rio de Janeiro, raising a brood of three young blue macaws in the heart of the city. And even if he doesn't totally fit in now that he's mostly cut ties with his former owner Linda (Leslie Mann), he's making a good show of it, celebrating a traditional New Year's Eve high above one of Rio's iconic beaches where local residents congregate. Although she grasps her family's precarious position as potentially the last of their rare species, for her part free-spirited Jewel hasn't quite shaken off the call of the wild.

So when her former guardian, geeky ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), and Linda make an expedition to the Amazon rain forest shortly after their marriage and discover the existence of a surviving group of endangered blue macaws, Jewel decides it's time for the family to get back to their rain-forest roots with a trip to the jungle, making good on the movie's "It’s on in the Amazon" tagline. Bookish little bird Bia (Amandla Stenberg), hellraiser Tiago (Pierce Gagnon) and aloof teen Carla (Rachel Crow) are up for the trip, but Blu can only consider making the journey with a supply of creature comforts stashed in his fanny pack, including an all-purpose multi-tool and GPS navigation he can use to locate Linda and Tulio in the forest.

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Blu's buds pile on for the adventure, including party-hearty toucan Rafael (George Lopez) and his sidekicks, the musically inclined Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (the Black Eyed Peas' Two thousand miles from Rio in the depths of the Amazon rain forest, they encounter a fiercely independent band of dozens of blue macaws led by proud patriarch Eduardo (Andy Garcia), along with his sister Mimi (Rita Moreno) and the preening protector Roberto (Bruno Mars), Jewel's childhood playmate.

The clincher, however, is that Eduardo is Jewel's long-lost father, who's leading the defense of their isolated forest habitat against encroaching loggers. Blu and his family are also menaced by his former nemesis, the brain-addled cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement), who was badly injured at the conclusion of Rio, but returns more evil than ever. Although now flightless, he's resolutely bent on revenge and accompanied by an admiring protege, the poisonous frog Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth). Whether Blu can prove his worth to his disdainful new father-in-law and help offer an effective defense against the mounting threats to his adoptive avian tribe's forest enclave present towering challenges for a formerly domesticated bird now tentatively reclaiming his wild side.

Although the writing team of Don Rhymer (who passed away in 2012), Carlos Kotkin, Jenny Bicks and Yoni Brenner tends more toward cloying character humor than the situational comedy that propelled brisk pacing and abundant thrills in Rio, the script remains well attuned to the comic talents of the individual actors, and moments of inspired zaniness are frequently uproarious, particularly when instigated by the moody, Method-acting Nigel.

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With the nefarious bird smugglers of the original movie replaced by more diffuse threats to the rain-forest habitat, Blu's ongoing obstacles relate more to inter-avian issues than direct threats to beak and wing. The subplot tracking the advance of the menacing loggers at least has topicality in its favor, although it remains too generalized to represent an advantageously teachable moment. A soccer-inspired competition for dominance of the forest grove inhabited by Eduardo's macaw clan, in homage to Brazil hosting the upcoming 2014 World Cup, offers some more relatable action, however.

Hathaway and Eisenberg, although perhaps an odd pairing on paper, are well matched as the endangered blue macaws, now guardians of the next generation. Hathaway's line readings animatedly convey Jewel's spirited personality, as well as her affectionate impatience with her mate's abundant phobias. It takes little effort for Eisenberg to make Blu's neuroses believable, although all the anxiety begins to wear a bit by the midpoint. Although singing clearly isn’t Eisenberg's strong suit, Hathaway really gets the chance to shine with her vocal performances. The three young actors playing the pair's offspring provide plenty of energy in roles that will be instantly recognizable from any number of animated films and TV sitcoms.

The other returning castmembers pretty much reprise their Rio supporting roles, although their screen time is diminished to make room for new characters, with Chenoweth and Garcia the real standouts. Playing the petite, poisonous frog Gabi, Chenoweth literally drips with amusingly outsize menace, but scores major points primarily for her two duets with Clement's megalomaniacal Nigel, particularly in a ridiculously re-jiggered version of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive." Garcia's turn as Jewel's proudly independent father with exaggerated expectations for his family members is so effectively accomplished that it could have come straight out of any of his previous live-action comedic roles.

STORY: 'Rio 2' Soundtrack Set for Release March 25

Saldanha, recently honored as CinemaCon's International Filmmaker of the Year, never seems to run out of inspiration engendered by his native Brazil. Although the technique of employing Carnaval as a plot contrivance has probably run its course over two movies now, the sheer diversity of rain-forest plants and animals he draws upon for roles in Rio 2 is enthralling. Under Saldanha's guidance, an extensive team of animators and visual effects artists elevates the 3D format to an alluring level, with character details, dense background imagery and often complex action and aerial sequences (including the requisite Busby Berkeley-inspired musical number) appearing effortlessly executed.

Easily recognizable Brazilian music, particularly bossa nova and samba, comprised the rhythmic heart of Rio, but in the sequel, the filmmakers branch out with a range of styles, performed by a stellar lineup of musicians that adds national treasure Milton Nascimento and includes returning Carlinhos Brown and Sergio Mendes, who also serves as executive music producer. Musical artists Janelle Monae and Bruno Mars sound more contemporary notes, with songs that are prominently featured on the film's recently released soundtrack album.

Production: Blue Sky Studios

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Foxx,, Leslie Mann, Rodrigo Santoro, George Lopez, Tracy Morgan, Kristin Chenoweth, Amandla Stenberg, Bruno Mars, Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno, Rachel Crow, Pierce Gagnon, Janelle Monae, Bebel Gilberto

Director: Carlos Saldanha

Screenwriters: Don Rhymer, Carlos Kotkin, Jenny Bicks, Yoni Brenner

Producers: Bruce Anderson, John C. Donkin

Executive producer:  Chris Wedge

Director of photography: Renato Falcao       

Editor: Harry Hitner

Music: John Powell

Rated G, 95 minutes