Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Movie Review: Rio 2

Rio 2
Directed by: Carlos Saldanha.
Written by: Jenny Bicks &Yoni Brenner & Carlos Kotkin and Don Rhymer and Carlos Saldanha based on characters created by Carlos Saldanha.
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg (Blu), Anne Hathaway (Jewel), Jemaine Clement (Nigel), Kristin Chenoweth  (Gabi), Jamie Foxx (Nico), will.i.am (Pedro), Andy Garcia (Eduardo), Bruno Mars (Roberto), George Lopez (Rafael), Leslie Mann (Linda), Rodrigo Santoro (Tulio), Pierce Gagnon (Tiago), Bebel Gilberto (Eva), Miguel Ferrer (Big Boss), Philip Lawrence (Felipe), Tracy Morgan (Luiz), Rita Moreno (Aunt Mimi), Amandla Stenberg (Bia), Claira Nicole Titman (Claira).

The screenplay for Rio 2 achieves something I would think to be very hard – it’s overstuffed yet incredibly lazy. This is in a film with multiple plot threads, lots of characters, several different villains, and yet none of it seems to have been fully thought through. The film, like its predecessor, seems more concerned with filling the film with the brightest colors imaginable and lots of quick movement to distract the kids in the audience. In that, I think, it works. It certainly distracted my two and half year old for the entirety of its running time. If, however, you’re looking for more from a movie than my daughter, Rio 2 doesn’t have much to offer.

When last we left the characters from Rio, Blu (voiced by Jessie Eisenberg) who was thought to be the last Blue Macaw in the world, and lived a happy life as a “companion” (don’t call him a pet) to Linda (Leslie Mann) in Minnesota, had found love with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) – who also thought she was the last Blue Macaw, and living in a bird sanctuary in Rio de Janerio. Linda herself found love with a bird expert, the goofy Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) – and Blu had made many friends with a pair of fast talking small birds (Jamie Foxx and will.i.am) a toucan (George Lopez) and a dog, Luiz (Tracy Morgan) – and had vanquished his enemy Nigel (Jemaine Clement) – a cockatoo. Flash forward a few years, and Blu and Jewel are still happy – have three children – and look to repopulate their species (like the Bible, the question of siblings repopulating a species isn’t addressed – probably smartly). Jewel wants to raise her children like she was – wild and free – but Blu is having trouble letting go of the comforts he is accustomed to – like pancakes and TV. It’s on that TV that they see Linda and Tulio – on an expedition in the Amazon – who have found a blue macaw feather – and think there may a whole flock out there somewhere. Jewel convinces Blu to take their kids to the jungle to try and help Linda and Tulio – and most of their friends come along as well. It isn’t long before they find the flock, led by Jewel’s father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) – but also several threats. Nigel wants revenge – and has teamed up with a poisonous frog (Kristen Chenoweth) and an ant-eater. And an evil logger (Miguel Ferrar) doing illegal activity threatens the flock’s home. Then there is a rival flock of red birds that Blu inadvertently offends. Blu also has to contend with a rival for Jewel’s affection – Roberto (Bruno Mars) who is everything he isn’t – and try to win over Eduardo, who quite clearly hates him.

There is so much going on in Rio 2 that the movie is never boring exactly. It rushes from one plot to the next with lightning speed as it tries to cram everything in into its running time. It doesn’t succeed because the film is too scattershot. It seems like director Carlos Saldanha wants to ensure he has all the characters people apparently loved in the first movie, in addition to seemingly dozens of new characters as well. The results aren’t satisfying because nothing is really developed like it should be. The human characters are such an afterthought to the movie that I kept forgetting they were even there (they didn’t need to be). The highlight of the first film was Clement’s Nigel – and he’s still the best thing in this film as well – but the movie doesn’t really know what to do with him. Teaming him with Kristen Chenoweth though works – they have a musical number together that is better than anything else in the movie (the musical numbers in general, and there are several are much better than anything else here).

Had the movie been streamlined a little bit, it probably would have been better. The movie doesn’t really do anything with Linda or Tulio or the human villains, nor has anything interesting for George Lopez’s toucan or Tracy Morgan’s dog to do either – they’re just taking up time and space in the film. They have to invent an entirely superfluous subplot involving Foxx and will.i.am putting on Carnival to give them something to do – and while it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie, it does provide the musical highlights, so I’m okay with it.

This is the 9th film by Blue Sky Animation for Twentieth Century Fox, and like all of their films, it doesn’t seem to have very much ambition other than to be a time waster for children that makes money. And their films do make money, which is why they keep making them, and keep on lacking in any real ambition. I think I’ve seen all of their films (I may have missed one of the 4 Ice Age films, but I don’t know – they all blend together in my mind), yet I can barely remember them. They offer fleeting pleasure that you forget by the time you reach the parking lot. Rio 2 offers less of that pleasure than usual. It makes me fear for their next film – Peanuts – which is full of beloved childhood icons for me. Let’s hope they don’t screw it up.

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