Watching "Rio 2" is a lot like watching a mid-season episode of a Saturday morning cartoon -- a really long, random episode. The film revolves around on no less than 12 major characters, all of whom get their own little mini-storyline. Torn between all those random storylines, the film never really comes to form a cohesive whole -- hell, it never even settles down to fit into a single genre. One moment it’s a musical. Another it’s a caper movie. Another it’s a 3-D action-adventure spectacle. "Rio 2," with its all-over-the-place please-the-audience-at-any-cost construction, is simultaneously schizophrenic and simple. It’s more a product than a movie.
Just like an episode of a cartoon or a sitcom, every character gets something to do here, and yet none of them advance or grow in any way by the time the end credits roll. Blu and Jewel, previously the last two Spix’s macaws on the planet (they mated in the first film), are introduced living in harmony in the home of their owners, Linda and Tulio. (Jesse Eisenberg voices Blu, Anne Hathaway voices Jewel, Leslie Mann fills the role of Linda, and Rodrigo Santoro lends his lungs to Tulio.) Soon enough the two human’s discover a whole flock of Spix’s macaws living in hiding on the Amazon, and jet off to protect them. Jewel -- the outdoorsy adventurous type to Blu’s Woody Allen-esque neurotic -- quickly convinces Blu and their clan of three "kids" to fly off after their owners, to fit in with the new flock themselves.
This sets off a domino effect of plot strands that allow the writers and directors to work in every personality from the first "Rio," alongside a bunch of new ones (a necessary strategy in cash-grab animated films like this -- studios always need new characters upon which to base new stuffed animals and merchandise). Jewel and Blu indeed find the flock, where they find Jewel’s believed-dead father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia.) Eduardo and Blu play out a "Meet the Parents" scenario, with the former constantly disgusted by the latter’s not-quite-masculine ways. That allows us to work in Roberto (Bruno Mars), a suave Spix’s macaw native to the Amazonian flock, whom Eduardo would clearly prefer as his daughter’s mate.
The rest of the characters fill in the background, engaging in B-plots and C-plots to fill time and to get their faces on screen. The villain of the first film, Nigel the cockatoo, returns with a plan to avenge himself against Blu, and has brought along Gabi the poison dart frog as his partner (Gabi’s in love with Nigel, leading to some literally show-stopping show tunes). Meanwhile, fellow birds Pedro (will.I.am,) Rafeal (George Lopez) and Nico (Jamie Foxx) make use of their new Amazonian friends to stage a talent show. In another subplot, Linda and Tulio battle against evil land developers looking to strip the Amazon of its lumber.
In yet another story thread, the Amazon-native Spix’s macaws play a form of flying soccer against their red-feathered rivals from across the jungle (seriously). That’s not even to mention the adventures of Blu and Jewel’s children, or the goofy stage-trained anteater that Nigel rides around on. "Rio 2" has no less than seven different sub-narratives winding to and fro throughout it.
All those plots come-and-go, lazing about the screen at a languid pace, the focus swapping from one-to-another with all the grace of one of a bulldozer. Director Carlos Saldanha’s goal isn’t to tell a story or even to advance a few character arcs -- his goal is just to placate people who were taken with the characters the first time around.
The movie really does feel like a Saturday morning cartoon show: The plot’s there to make sure nobody in the audience is ever bored, but at the same time, the film is much more interested in seeing its characters dance about, look cute and crack crass jokes than it is in following up or ascribing actual stakes to those narrative strands.
"Rio 2" is a decent enough, funny enough, inoffensive enough piece of kid’s entertainment to pass muster with the under-10 crowd, sure. But it’s really only for those who enjoyed the last episode -- it’s just for people who want to spend some more time next to these fluffy, cuddly characters. There have been times where I’ve referred to superhero movies as "action figure cinema." This is stuffed animal cinema.