Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Jemaine Clement, Kristin Chenoweth, Andy Garcia, Bruno Mars, Rita Moreno
Running time: 101 minutes
Bottomline: A kaleidoscope of blah
It was inevitable that Blue Sky/20th Century Fox would make a sequel to “Rio,” a modest hit in 2011 that earned almost $500 million worldwide. That’s what studios do: milk each intellectual property for as much box-office revenue as possible.
It was probably inevitable that “Rio 2” would move Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) into the parenthood phase of life. That’s what Blue Sky did with the Ice Age movies, another franchise that began with an animal believed to be the last of its species.
It was even more inevitable, if there are levels of inevitability, that Blu and Jewel would have three precocious children, one of them comparatively smaller and pluckier. Hollywood apparently still adheres to the 2.5 children per family rule.
It was still more predictable the voice cast would feature some pop stars to attract tween and teen ticket buyers. Will.i.am reprises his role from the first movie, but the producers added younger, hipper Bruno Mars and Janelle Monáe to the cast as well.
It was probably unavoidable, too, that “Rio 2” would incorporate an environmental theme but wouldn’t explore it in any depth or complexity. (Let me spoil it for you: it’s wrong to destroy the rainforest.)
Most other animated family films are guilty of using these and other predictable strategies to draw viewers. But the good ones offer something — clever jokes, great music or endearing characters, for instance — to compensate for the clichés.
In other words, many other family movies are just as unoriginal as this one, but they’re entertaining enough it’s easy to forget how formulaic they are.
“Rio 2” just feels like we’re going through the motions or fulfilling a contract.
The movie’s best scenes are the musical numbers, and the best of those does not feature the protagonists. The villainous Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and smitten poisonous frog Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth) steal much of the movie thanks to a few brilliantly performed songs. Gabi’s passionate ode to her and Nigel’s toxic love is the highlight of the entire film.
Still, everything about “Rio 2” is expected and contrived. Even the elements that work offer nothing surprising. For instance, another of Clement and Chenoweth’s big numbers is a performance of “I Will Survive.” If I wanted to hear that song again, I’d go to a wedding.
For the sake of comparison, “Muppets Most Wanted” was also rather mediocre, yet my wife and son have been singing the songs from memory for weeks now. (They are singing those songs to remind me I was wrong to not like the movie. It’s one of the hazards of being a critic.)
Anyone who saw “The Lego Movie” is probably still humming “Everything is Awesome.”
On the other hand, a mere hour after seeing “Rio 2” no one in my family could remember any of the songs well enough to sing them.
“Rio 2” isn’t a bad movie, but nothing about it is memorable or exceptional.
The only passion I can work up for the movie is mild anger over its completely unnecessary use of the 3-D format. This is yet another blatant attempt by Hollywood to bilk parents by persuading them to pay the 3-D prices.
Visually, the most spectacular element of “Rio 2” is its use of Busby Berkeley-style choreography and design, which is ironic. Berkeley was known for transforming human actors into geometric, two-dimensional tableaux. It’s not a style that lends itself to 3-D.
The “Madagascar 3” filmmakers borrowed from Berkeley, too, but they imaginatively and joyously embellished the style with perspective and a carnival attitude. “Rio 2” doesn’t do anything novel with the Berkeley style, nor does it even capitalize on all of the flying birds to create any significant 3-D effect.
This one is easy to summarize. Only see this in the theater if you really loved “Rio,” and by no means shell out the 3-D premium.
Jeff Marker is head of the Communication, Media & Journalism Department at the University of North Georgia. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.