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Rio 2

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless

I usually don’t write 2nd First Look articles about art that’s currently in the public eye and is already getting lots of hype (not that it’s a bad thing; I just figure that most of those things are already on your radar).  I’m also not a big fan of sequels, and will sometimes purposely avoid them (case in point--I refuse to even consider seeing The Neverending Story II or III, as I stubbornly guard my fond childhood memories of the first film). But this time around, I’m bucking those trends and featuring the in-theatres-now children’s movie, Rio 2.

For those who may not have seen the first movie, Rio told the story of a blue macaw (appropriately named Blu, and voiced by Jesse Eisenburg), who had been raised in Minnesota by a human named Linda (voice talent by Leslie Mann).  Their quiet life gets shaken up when a conservationist from Brazil named Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) seeks them out, hoping to take Blu to Rio to introduce him to a female blue macaw, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and preserve the species, believing that they’re the only two of their kind left.  There’s danger and adventure along the way, with a fun cast of wacky humans and animals.

Since my son and I had seen Rio and both liked its beautiful visuals, comedy, and great characters, we decided to give Rio 2 a try.  I’ll admit that I didn’t have high hopes as we walked into the movie theatre.  My “sequels usually stink” attitude was making me biased, so as the lights went down, the best that I hoped for was that it would be at least partially as good as the first installment.  It turns out that I was about to be pleasantly surprised.

Rio 2 follows Jewel, Blu, and their three children as they venture into the Amazon.  To prevent any spoilers, I won’t reveal much more about the plot, but I will say that viewers are in for just as many--if not more--stunning visuals as the first film.  I remember being captivated by the exquisite animation and brilliant colors in Rio, especially during scenes of the birds in flight, and those showing the Carnaval parade.  There’s plenty of the same in the new movie, with lots of detail and keeps-your-eyes-glued-to-the-screen mesmerizing animation.

Speaking of color, most of the colorful characters from the first film are back too, and I daresay that what was already really good comedy gets kicked up a notch or two.  Bird best friends Rafael the toucan (George Lopez), Pedro (will.i.am), and Nico (Jamie Foxx) join the Blu/Jewel family in their Amazon adventures, as does Luiz the bulldog (Tracy Morgan), uncontrollable drool and all.

Luiz (Tracy Morgan), Rafael (George Lopez), Blu (Jesse Eisenburg), Pedro (will.i.am), and Nico (Jamie Fox)
New faces (and the voices behind them) are Jewel’s dad, and Blu’s intimidating father-in-law, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), and Jewel’s childhood friend, the suave Roberto, voiced by pop star Bruno Mars.  Even the legendary Rita Moreno lends her voice and comedic talent, as Jewel’s Aunt Mimi.

For me, who really shined and kept me laughing out loud though was the duo of cockatoo-gone-bad, Nigel (Jemaine Clement), and a new character, “poisonous” tree frog Gabi, voiced by Kristin Chenoweth.  I’m already a fan of Clement and his humor from his work with "Flight of the Conchords," and loved how he played Nigel in the first Rio movie.  Likewise, I always enjoyed Chenoweth as Olive Snook in the TV series "Pushing Daisies."  Whomever in the casting department decided to pair up her character in Rio 2 with Clement’s deserves a raise or a promotion; while both Gabi or Nigel can shine on their own, it’s the way that they play off of each other that takes it to another level.  More than once during scenes with both Gabi and Nigel onscreen, I found myself sheepishly wondering if my booming laughter was disturbing any of the other moviegoers.

Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth)
Both Rio and Rio 2 are full of music, and Chenoweth’s impressive theatric and singing abilities are put to good use. Gabi the tree frog can go from belting out a tune to bringing it down to a beautifully controlled near-whisper in seconds, thanks to Chenoweth’s talent.  And fans of Clement will appreciate the “big” musical number that Nigel performs in the film.

Even the secondary characters are a lot of fun.  Any time that we visit our local zoo, one of my favorite stops is the exhibit that houses the Emperor Tamarins, little primates that have “moustaches” and remind me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book.  Much to my delight, an Emperor Tamarin shows up as a minor character in Rio 2, along with a slew of other animals that made me giggle (if you plan to see it, keep an eye/ear out for Amy Heidemann’s rapping sloth).

Like the original, Rio 2 offers up ecological and moral issues, challenging the audience to think about our impact on the environment and giving kids life lessons to ponder.  I did feel there were maybe a few too many subplots going on in the movie, and that it might've been better to concentrate on just a few.  But that said, it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the film, and my son didn’t seem bothered by it either.

Rio 2 follows in the footsteps of recent children’s movies that aim to entertain parents or other adults too, by providing smart comedy that appeals to a wide age range.  I can’t speak for anyone else, but they won me over, and made me reconsider my almost universal boycott on movie sequels.  If Blue Sky Studios is hatching any plans for a Rio 3 (I wouldn‘t be surprised, considering the success of the previous two films), and asks moviegoers to “Let Me Take You To Rio” again, I might have to agree to it; I’ve had a great time on the other trips so far.