ByBenjamin Marlatt, writer at

Following its predecessor, Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (voiced by Anne Hathaway) and their three kids now live the domesticated life in Rio de Janeiro. After discovering that they may not be the only Blue Spix’s Macaws left, they pack up their bags, Blu a bit more reluctantly, and fly over to the Amazon Rainforest. There, they not only discover an entire tribe of Macaws, they’re led by Jewel’s commanding father Eduardo (voiced by Andy Garcia).

Blu finds it hard to adjust to the rainforest life, and it’s made all the more difficult for him in trying to fend off Jewel’s childhood friend Roberto (voiced by Bruno Mars) from flirting with her. Even greater conflicts arise when the tribe’s way of life is threatened by a group of illegal loggers and Blu’s old nemesis Nigel (voiced by Jermaine Clement) returns to get revenge.

2011′s Rio - of which I was late to the party – while beautifully animated and containing some lively characters, was really nothing special. Unfortunately, three years later, we get much of the same with the sequel, which overcompensates by cramming more story and character than we really need. Overall, I couldn’t help but ask – just how necessary was this film?

Rio made nearly half a billion at the box office, so necessary or not, the studio’s making a sequel anyway.

Essentially, Rio 2 plays out like a environmentally conscious Meet the Parents. Blu’s Ben Stiller, Jewel’s Teri Polo, Eduardo’s Robert De Niro and Roberto’s Owen Wilson. Of course, Blu meets Jewel’s butch flat top adorning dad, who looks down at Blu, and all his fanny pack wearing glory, and immediately wonders just how his daughter could see anything in this geeky bird. Then we get the obligatory emasculating that occurs when Blu meets Jewel’s childhood friend, who turns out to be a pitch-perfect singing stud. Then, while that’s going on, Nigel, Blu’s nemesis from the first film, is back for revenge. Rafael, Nico and Pedro are holding auditions for the Rio Carnival. Linda and Tulio are busy trying to locate this mystery Macaw tribe, and on top of Nigel’s villain, we also get a group of illegal loggers aiming to destroy the rainforest.

That there lies the overall problem with this film. Rio 2 has too much going on, and all for a movie targeted at kids. This film doesn’t have anywhere near the universal appeal between kids and adults that recent animated films like Frozen or The Lego Movie have, and that’s fine. A good movie’s a good movie, but even the kids at the screening I was at didn’t laugh that much aside from a few goofball moments from Blu or one of the side characters. There’s just so many villains, supporting characters and conflicts bombarding the viewer, I have to wonder if the reason the kids weren’t laughing that much were ’cause they were just confused as to everything that was going on. I can’t fault the filmmakers for lack of ambition, but I can for the execution of it.

The primary conflict of this film that they’re pushing is this habitat of the birds being threatened by the loggers, yet the villains that they have central to that conflict are just secondary throwaway villains. The primary villain here is Nigel back again to get revenge from the first film. I can understand why you’d want Nigel back. He’s a highly animated character and Jermaine Clement does provide a Shakespearean delivery that adds a bit more to it. However, if you’re trying to push this central message, yet make the primary villain something else with a completely different motive, both efforts end up coming out drab. It’s a shame too, ’cause as unnecessary as it is to have Nigel show back up, he ironically partners up with one of the redeeming aspects of this film (I’ll get to her soon).

This movie isn’t without its highlights. The animation crew does a fantastic job creating such a vibrantly colorful world and detailed characters. Then there’s the musical numbers which are easily the best moments of the film (aside from a small, humorous audition montage run by Rafael, Pedro and Nico). Kristen Chenoweth (who has the most memorable musical number) voices the liveliest of all the characters as a poison dart frog named Gabi, who’s madly infatuated with Nigel. The downside is those highlights are few and far between, the between being a dull, crowded story that barely entertains when everyone stops singing.

Rio 2 is a harmless, utterly non-offensive film that, like its predecessor, is beautifully animated and has characters that are hard not to like. The story, though, is so uneventful in spite of the number of plot elements they have going on. You certainly ain’t gonna be taking your little ones to see Oculus or Joe this weekend, but honestly, as much as I enjoy being able to recommend a movie everyone in the family can see, a few catchy musical numbers and terrific animation aren’t enough for me to do so.

I give Rio 2 a C- (★★).

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