Blue Sky Entertainment has been churning out high-energy computer-animated features for over a decade. They've had big hits with the Ice Age franchise, Horton Hears a Who, and Rio. Yet this studio hasn't earned the kind of esteemed reputation of its biggest competitors, DreamWorks and Pixar. Considering Rio 2, it's little wonder why. Once more, Blue Sky Entertainment has offered a perfectly adequate kid's movie, but nothing that more mature audiences will find especially compelling.
Rio introduced Blu, a nebbish, flightless Spix's Macaw who experiences culture shock when he's taken to meet his assigned mate Jewel in Rio de Janeiro. This lively locale is where the sequel picks up, with Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) raising their three chicks with all the modern (human) conveniences, like pancakes, iPods, and television. But when their human friends Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) uncover a long-lost flock of Spix's Macaw deep in the Amazon, the whole Blu family flies off to join them so the kids can learn about their cultural (Macaw) heritage.
Upon arrival, Blu quickly realizes his reliance on human tools (fanny packs, GPS) make him a misfit. Worse yet, he feels threatened by Jewel's disapproving father (Andy Garcia) and her former flame, a flashy flyer and sultry singer called Roberto (Bruno Mars). But unbeknownst to Blu there's even bigger trouble brewing. A greedy lumber magnate is slicing his way right to the Macaw colony. And the nefarious Nigel (Jemaine Clement) -- who first fought Blu in Rio -- is back for revenge. This time, this cruel Cockatoo has found a minion in Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), a poisonous frog who is utterly infatuated with him.
Fans of the first film should be pleased with Rio 2. Director Carlos Saldanha has brought back most of his colorful cast of characters, including Rafael the smooth-talking Toucan (George Lopez), Nico the bottle-cap sporting Canary (Jamie Foxx), Pedro the rapping Cardinal (will.i.am), and Luiz the dopey, drooling bulldog (Tracy Morgan). This crew gets an unimportant but bouncy subplot about putting on an Amazon variety show, which injects several song numbers and plenty of gags into the movie. By my count the strongest visual gag (involving turtles performing capoeira) and the most entertaining song number (Nigel's unique interpretation of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive") both come from these sequences.
Rio 2 also offers an enjoyable new adventure for Blu, who has new anxieties to face when he is no longer his one-and-only's only option. The new characters offer challenges about parenthood and partnership that could be emotionally rich, but the film never delves deep enough for these moments to really resonate. Still, the voice work is terrific, full of verve and emotion--especially Clemente's Shakespeare-spouting villain. And it's overall entertaining enough that parents or guardians taking kids to see it won't be bored.
There are lots of fun moments. Rio 2 unfurls a spirited journey, peppered with plucky action, some rousing musical numbers, and a dash of silly slapstick. But the separate plot threads are sloppily laced together, barreling to a resolution that feels rushed and overly pat after so much build up. Ultimately, Rio 2 is a fine bit of entertainment, but nothing more.