If “Rio” showed that 20th Century Fox Animation had finally moved into Disney’s neighborhood, with “Rio 2” they’ve taken off their shoes and propped their feet up on the coffee table. This talented bunch is clearly comfortable with what they’re doing, and they strut their stuff at every opportunity, showcasing things like complicated big-cast song-and-dance sequences and the hyper-realistic water and fireworks that used to be the sole province of Disney animators. And the writing? While not on a par with the best of Disney, it’s certainly good enough to match second-tier Disney efforts.
Other things Fox apparently learned from Disney animators are the importance of character personalities and the impact that small details and quirky comedic moments can have on a film. “Rio 2” is loaded with little surprises that catch you off-guard and make you smile or laugh out loud. What’s interesting is that it’s often not the same sight gag or verbal gibe that tickles everyone’s fancy. I watched this with three family members, and it seemed as if each of us blurted out an expression of delight at least once when the rest of the room was silent.
A feast for the senses, “Rio 2” picks up where Rio left off. You don’t have to know the whole backstory because there are hints embedded in the narrative. But it certainly helps—especially to appreciate the evil cockatoo Nigel’s current predicament. At the end of Rio, Linda (Leslie Mann), who had brought her blue macaw Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) to Rio to mate him with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) after she learned from ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) that those two are the last of their species, had married Tulio and set up a blue macaw sanctuary. Now their love-macaws have three spirited offspring—Carla, Bia, and Tiago—and on an expedition to release a rehabilitated bird, Tulio and Linda glimpse another rare blue macaw. So the whole group sets off on an expedition deep into the Amazon to discover if there are more.
A talent-search sideplot featuring minor characters seems inserted only to give Nico (Jamie Foxx), Pedro (will.i.am), and Luiz (Tracy Morgan) something to do, but the two-pronged main narrative easily holds everyone’s interest, and you just might recognize a few familiar Latino voices—like Rita Moreno, George Lopez, Miguel Ferrer, and Sergio Mendes.
This sequel features twice the music and twice the villains. Instead of illegal pet trade baddies and the evil cockatoo that assists them, there are illegal loggers who threaten the macaws’ habitat, as well as a vengeful Nigel (Jemaine Clement) who is determined to kill Blu for what he did to him (out of self-defense) in the first film. Complicating matters is that the leader of the wild blue macaws, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), turns out to be Jewel’s father—and like any father who learns his daughter is married, he disapproves of the fanny-pack wearing, GPS-consulting Blu and sets out to toughen him up by teaching him rainforest survival tricks. It doesn’t help that Jewel’s childhood “friend,” the dashing Roberto (Bruno Mars), turns out to be good at everything.
Though we’ve seen an attraction of unlikely species before in animated features—the donkey and dragon in “Shrek” quickly come to mind—it’s more than a little weird to have a poison dart frog in love with a rather large and mean-tempered cockatoo. The song that Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth) sings seems better suited to main character love declarations, and there are other moments in the film that simply aren’t as pleasing or successful as the rest. Overall, though, “Rio 2” is a fun and worthy sequel that captures all the vibrant colors and sights and sounds of the Brazilian city.
Director Carlos Saldanha (“Ice Age”) was born in Rio, and his animated tributes continue to be loving. “Rio 2” explodes with personality and atmosphere, and if you’re suffering any sort of World Cup letdown, this energetic Amazonian adventure is a good way to taper off.
“Rio 2” was also released in 3D, but the 2D version is no poor stepchild. Detail is amazing, and edges are so well defined that characters and objects pop slightly, giving them a nice sense of 3-Dimensionality. Blues and reds and yellows and oranges abound, and everywhere the film feels like yet another dish of eye candy—though scenes involving humans are, probably by design, a little softer and more drab. Presented in 2.40:1 aspect ratio, “Rio 2” sports a near-flawless AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 50GB disc. If you’re looking for an animated feature with that unintangible “wow” factor, this one might be a contender.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 that fills the room with sound. There are more songs in this sequel (23, compared to 18 in the original), and big production numbers like “What Is Love” offer a fully immersive experience. The bass vibrates, and when the voices and instruments start to take off, you feel the power and the magic and the inseparable way that music is a part of life in Brazil. Additional audio options are in French, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Croatian, Serbian, Slovenian, Greek, Romanian, and Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Bulgarian, Croatian, Greek, Romanian, Serbian, Slovenian, and Turkish.
“Rio 2” comes in a standard size Blu-ray case inserted into a slipcase. A DVD is included, along with a UV Digital Copy and Digital Copy. There aren’t as many bonus features as you’d imagine, especially given the love affair that Saldanha has with his native land. But the sound effects bonus feature he “hosts” with Mendes is interesting: “Boom, Shake, Snap: The Local Sounds of Brazil” (19 min.). So is the extra on voice talents (10 min.). That’s the main course. After that, it’s all tapas. A “Rio” refresher offers a brief summary of the first film, a 7-minute feature on Nigel also serves as a behind-the-scenes tour of the Blue Sky animation studio, a sing-and-dance-along option gives you ways to interact with the film, “You Be the Judge” presents fake auditions for some of the characters (2 min.), a still gallery gives you the usual range of filmic art, and “What Is Love” and “I Will Survive” are presented as music videos. Trailers round out the bonus features.
“Rio 2” is easily as good as “Rio,” and that bodes well for the future. Was it coincidental that this film was released as Rio de Janeiro hosted the World Cup? I think not. So with Rio hosting the 2016 Summer Olympic Games, you’d have to guess that Fox animators already have that date pinned to their storyboards.