Did you know that the original Rio grossed over $500 million? Neither did I. I mention that because it’s the only really memorable thing about the first film and the only possible justification for a second. The original movie was slight, but serviceable and I suppose this new one is the same. It’s what we like to call a babysitter movie: something you can turn on for the kids with reasonable assurance that they won’t get into the kitchen knives. Beyond that, it’s an empty husk: colorful, blandly inoffensive, test marketed to within an inch of its little life, and set upon the world with a resounding “you could do worse!”
I saw it about a week ago and even now the specifics are a little hazy. Blu the parrot (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and his best gal Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway) have settled into their Brazilian bird sanctuary to raise a passel of hatchlings. Blu seems very happy, but Jewel longs for the open jungle and through the usual contrivances, the whole family soon sets out for the Amazon. There, they discover an entire flock of their particular breed, a big surprise since they thought they were the only ones left. Blu must get used to life in the wild while he and his friends fight to save that particular chunk of jungle from the depredations of some evil loggers.
It’s a good thing that 20th Century Fox also produced Avatar because this film may be guilty of copyright infringement. The finale lifts it almost shot for shot, while the rest finds room to cram in a bunch of new characters and an evil scheme from Nigel the cockatoo (voiced by Jermain Clement), hungry for revenge after the events of the first film.
Rio 2 basically tosses them all in a blender and hits “puree,” resulting in a colorful concoction that kids should enjoy but adults will likely choke on. Nothing about it feels new or exciting. The themes of family and belonging are designed for maximum non-offensiveness, peppered with quasi-samba numbers that someone thought would help sell the soundtrack and new characters who look better on a t-shirt than in the midst of an overstuffed plot. Rio 2 careens back and forth between its various elements and to its credit, it manages to keep all of the plates spinning. But it can’t come up with a single reason why, nor do we care whether it ultimately succeeds or fails.
This, sadly, is the modus operandi of a lot of Fox’s animated fare. Once they have a box office winner, they insist on beating it into the ground, and refuse to contribute a single interesting idea to the process. With Frozen still destroying box office records and Disney’s partners at Pixar still maintaining a certain bar for quality, one wonders why efforts like this even bother. Oh right, because there’s profit to be had. So Rio 2 arrives in a period with absolutely no competition, offering parents an option for the wee ones when their teenage kids go off to Captain America, and guaranteed to vanish like a ghost as soon as it’s done its job. That doesn’t make it an awful film, but it certainly doesn’t give us any reason to go out of our way for it. Product is as product does, and Rio 2 never aspires to anything else. You may not remember it by the time you hit the parking lot and that’s one thing. But chances are your kids won’t either – not when they can come back home and find more memorable fare waiting on the Blu-ray shelf. In light of that, what does Rio 2 do for anyone beside suck up a few precious hours of our time?