Saturday, April 12, 2014

Summer Sequel Showdown: Rio 2 Marks The Season’s First Big Weekend Fight!

The Good: Animation is fine, Keeps the tone and characters of the original
The Bad: Unmemorable songs, Formulaic plot, Dull subplots, Lack of compelling new/interesting characters, No wonderful lines.
The Basics: Rio 2 is an unimpressive, though not unpleasant, sequel that continues the story begun in Rio in a thoroughly mediocre and unmemorable way.

Every year, it seems, Summer Blockbuster Season comes earlier and earlier. Summer Blockbuster Season is a series of big studio-released films that are calculated to blow out the box-office for a weekend (or two, for truly ambitious movies) before the next special effects-laden film takes its place in the public’s limited imagination and attention span. Summer Blockbuster Season is characterized by big studio releases, often sequels, that are not necessarily quality films, but are pretty much guaranteed to put cash in the pockets of studios. It’s also a time that is divided up and charted out by the big studios in a calculated effort to win the weekend boxoffice. This cinematic season usually comes after the studios have divided the weekends out without any real sense of competition and with the potential for a sleeper hit. This year, the peaceful film-release season has ended early with an “anybody’s guess” weekend that pits last week’s big sequel, Captain America: The Winter Soldier (reviewed here!) against newcomer sequel Rio 2.

If Rio 2 was a Dreamworks Animation work, instead of 20th Century Fox, the weekend would not be in dispute (the fact that a Madagascar sequel creamed Prometheus, reviewed here, for its opening weekend in the U.S. pretty much cemented the idea that Dreamworks Animation releases will always bring the cash crowds). As it stands, Rio 2 is a mediocre sequel continuing a fairly unmemorable original film. As I recall, I only watched Rio (reviewed here!) because it had Anne Hathaway’s voice talents and after my wife and I had already fallen in love with Angry Birds: Rio. Rio 2 seemed to be released on the hope that younger audiences would be brought out to see the film before too many critics panned the film to death. As it stands, I could easily have lived without seeing the sequel, even with my love of the works of Anne Hathaway and an appreciation of Jesse Eisenberg’s acting talents.

Opening with New Year’s in Rio De Janero, Blue Macaws Jewel and Blu are forced to quit partying when their babysitters keep revealing that they have pawned off their kids to others and left the ineffectual Tiny in charge of monitoring their kids. Meanwhile, their human scientist companions, Tulio and Linda, are two thousand miles away in the Amazon where they discover a blue macaw feather. Surviving rapids, the pair is interviewed on the news where Tulio postulates there could be an entire flock of blue macaws out there that were heretofore unknown. Seeing the television program, Blu, Jewel, the kids and Rafael, head to the Amazon (despite their fear of snakes that can swallow them in one bite!). On their trip, they fly over a carnival, where Nigel has been imprisoned, forced to work as a fortune teller, giving out prizes. Seeing the blue macaw family, Nigel breaks out of the carnival and vows revenge upon Blu and Jewel for the accident that prevents him from flying.

Accompanied by his lovesick salamander, Gabi, and a sloth, Nigel hunts down the blue macaw family on a boat, but is unable to catch them. The Big Boss in the Amazon tasks one of his henchmen to find Tulio and Linda and get them out of the area he is deforesting. Jewel and Blu meet up with a flock of Blue Macaws, which include Jewel’s long-lost father, who is thrilled to see her and to be a grandfather. While Jewel is excited to rediscover her extended family, including an ex-boyfriend, Roberto, Blu finds himself out-of-place in the wild. Hunted by Nigel as humans encroach into the last safe haven of the Blue Macaws, Blu and his family are threatened on all sides.

Rio 2 is not the worst animated sequel of all time, though it certainly is one that is lacking entirely in spark. The film is devoid of clever lines or memorable moments (the audience I was with only laughed out loud in the first five minutes when one of the kids got smacked against a wall with a blueberry pancake). The movie is very easy to watch even for those who have not seen the original. Having only seen Rio once, I only recalled the movie in the most general terms (as the beginning of a relationship between Jewel and Blu, who were tethered together for an Odd Couple-style relationship). So, things like a flashback to reveal Nigel’s motivations for the sequel were actually helpful and make the movie more accessible.

Unfortunately, it does not matter how easy-to-watch Rio 2 is on its own; the film is entirely uninspired. Gone is the adversarial banter that characterized the Blu/Jewel relationship in Rio, which makes sense. But it is replaced by a single catch phrase (“A happy wife is a happy life”) and a predictable conflict that is only resolved through the most generic expression of love as presented in modern cinema. The appearance of Roberto seems to have little consequence within the movie and is only a cheap excuse for Bruno Mars to show off his singing talents. Sadly, for all of Bruno Mars’ talents, there is no song he (or anyone else in the movie) sings that rivals any of the three (now) instantly-recognizable songs from Frozen (reviewed here!). Rio 2 utilizes a more dance-based and hip-hop soundtrack and the original songs are unmemorable and the covers just seem ridiculous in the brightly-colored movie.

Just as the appearance of Robert is an obvious romantic predator to the Jewel/Blu relationship, Rio 2 has a painfully predictable arc for Blu and his father-in-law, Eduardo. Eduardo is the archetype of the father-in-law; stern, loves the grandkids, hates the daughter’s husband, and likes the ex-boyfriend more than the current husband. Eduardo’s arc could have been written by a computer that made an amalgamation of animated family film plots. The fundamental problem on the character front with Rio 2 is that the characters never develop beyond their original premise or archetypes into anything new. Eduardo and Robert’s arcs can be called accurately the moment they first appear on screen.

As for the plot, Rio 2 is packed with plotlines, but none is compelling enough to capture the imagination of the audience. Outside the main plotline of the complications that come from Jewel and Blu visiting the Amazon, there is an entire subplot for Tulio and Linda, Nigel’s revenge subplot, and a series of auditions for the carnival back in Rio that the non-Blue Macaw’s devote time to (which allows a sequence of ridiculous animal performing pop music songs). Blu unwittingly starting a war with neighboring birds over a Brazil nut just muddies an already packed movie.

On the acting front, Rio 2 is unimpressive as well. Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, and Jemaine Clement all proved they could do voice acting well in Rio. Like George Lopez, Andy Garcia, Leslie Mann, and Bruno Mars, the primary performers illustrate no new emoting talents with their performances in Rio 2 to make the viewer believe that they are seeing actors doing something other than looking for an easy paycheck. Rio 2 is notably lacking in big emotional moments that might actually stretch the acting talents of those involved. Anne Hathaway, for example, is barely more than a supporting performer in Rio 2 with no memorable moments for her character, Jewel (though the animators did a good job with making Jewel look truly emotional upon being reunited with her father).

In the end, the box office fight for the weekend is almost inconsequential; whether or not Rio 2 can win the weekend race, it is a film virtually impossible to believe that word-of-mouth would be strong or positive enough to give it a second weekend at the top. A dubious sequel to begin with, Rio 2 is a strong-enough argument against making a Rio 3 that anyone needs; if you love Rio, just keep watching the first one. That is a better use of your time than Rio 2.

For works featuring Anne Hathaway, please check out my reviews of:
Anne Hathaway For Wonder Woman!
Rio 2
Les Miserables
The Dark Knight Rises
One Day
Love And Other Drugs
Family Guy Presents: It's A Trap!
Alice In Wonderland
Valentine's Day
Twelfth Night Soundtrack
Bride Wars
Rachel Getting Married
Get Smart
Becoming Jane
The Devil Wears Prada
Brokeback Mountain
The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement
Ella Enchanted
Nicholas Nickleby
The Other Side Of Heaven
The Princess Diaries


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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