Friday, April 25, 2014

Review 261: "Rio 2"

It's on in the Amazon.

Ice Age Over

      Rio 2 is the 2014 animated sequel to Blue Sky Animation's 2011 film Rio. This marks, surprisingly, the first time a Blue Sky Studios film had received a sequel outside of the Ice Age series. The film is once again directed by Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age: The Meltdown) and written by Jenny Bicks (What a Girl Wants), Yoni Brenner (Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs) and Carlos Kotkin. The film follows Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) as they take their kids, Tiago (Pierce Gagnon), Carla (Rachel Crow) and Bia (Amandla Stenberg) down to the Amazon to meet up with more rare Spix's Macaws discovered by human friends Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro). As their friends Rafael (George Lopez), Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro ( join them, they discover the Macaws are Jewel's long-lost family, including her strict father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) and suave friend Roberto (Bruno Mars). As Blue struggles to fit in, they all find themselves under the threat of an evil logger Big Boss (Miguel Ferrer) and the return of Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and his new frog partner Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth). It's on in the Amazon. Get it? It's like the thing.

Birds. Yeah.
Blame it on Rio

      Blue Sky Studios, despite releasing 8 films before this one and starting all the way back in 2002, never really had a big hit, for me at least. I mean sure, like any kid, I loved the Ice Age movies, but those haven't aged well. And the last Rio was really nothing more than a generic children's film, just another one of the ones that gets released every year. It wasn't bad, but it really just wasn't anything special, a film about animated romance that pandered to much to kids, substituting character development and story for lame gags and flashy setpieces. But it did have two things going for it. One, it boasts some utterly fantastic animation. And two, despite the romance being underdeveloped, Blu and Jewel were a pretty good pair of characters. And, despite the laws of animated children's sequels, Rio 2 is everything the original was... just far better and, surprisingly, not bigger.
      Rio 2, a movie I wasn't particularly interested in seeing and didn't expect much from, may very well be Blue Sky Animations best film since the original Ice Age. The film seems built upon the idea of having a more character driven story while maintaining the high energy of the original. The result is a fast, fun and surprisingly funny film that surpasses the original in every way.

Birds of Blue Feathers

      Despite the fact that the plot takes away the two biggest components of the first Rio, Blu and Jewel being the last of their kind and, you know, setting the film in Rio, it seems to be a very smart move. The Amazon is a very interesting location and the animation is once again fantastic. And thankfully, Jewel's family end up taking up most of the supporting cast roles, replacing some of the more annoying characters from the original. The cast here is very good, Eisenberg is great as Blu again and Garcia is a great new addition. Mars, too, proves himself to be surprisingly fun. The characters, even if they roles are cliched, do play well off of each other and actually feel like they have grown from the first movie. Blu and Jewel this time around to genuinely appears like they love each other and, even though Mars is set up as a monkey wrench, the film never pulls the lame dramatic cliche of hinting that their love might be threatened even though we know it isn't.
      Blue and Jewel's kids aren't used as just pandering to the kids and are actually likable.'s role has been toned down, which is always a good thing. But what really makes the sequel is how small they keep the film. For the most part, it focuses on the characters and it's all set in one, relatively large area. Unlike the first one, which relied heavily on flashy setpiece, Rio 2 only has about two or three, enough to be fun, but not enough to be overwhelming. As a result, the film can spend most of it's time exploring what it's characters would do in the Amazon, which amounts to a solid amount of humor and a few really good musical numbers. In fact, I only have two big complaints, outside of the film never reaching a truly fantastic point. One is that Jewel isn't given that much to do. Hathaway still gives it her all, but here, she mostly gives Blu support, fight when the climax rolls around and help set up the plot. Two is that, despite Nigel having more to do and Clement being fantastic in the role, Chenoweth too, what those two villains do never actually crosses over that much with our heroes, which is a bit of a disappointment.

Surprisingly good kids. The ones in the audience, though...
The Verdict

      Call me surprised. Because I am. Rio 2 is a sequel that improves vastly on it's predecessor by actually going smaller. A new location is very welcome and a more character-focused story makes for some strong laughs and a lot of fun. The characters are great again, though some should have had more to do. The animation is still great and the songs are fun as all hell. Overall, Blue Sky finally has another big hit on their hands, even if it isn't a home run. Rio 2 gets 5 stars out of 6.

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