Animated films are huge and often considerably less risky business, so of course studios value a reliable property like the Ice Age franchise—with its worldwide box office haul of $2.8 billion, not even counting direct-to-home-video spin-offs—more than something like 2005’s Robots, which “only” grossed around $260 million on its $75 million budget.
The above point is worth underscoring since those films, produced by Blue Sky Studios and released by 20th Century Fox, are all directed or co-directed by Brazilian-born filmmaker Carlos Saldanha. Three years ago this very week, the family-friendly animated adventure Rio released, and became a $485 million surprise hit. Ergo, the impetus to carve out another comfortable gravy train hangs over and informs everything about the colorful, clamorous and entirely undemanding Rio 2. That means poop jokes in triplicate (hey, comedy comes in threes), as well as all other manner of easygoing song-and-dance, laughs and wan conflict resolution.
The story of Rio 2 takes many of the characters from the first film into the Amazon rainforest. Erstwhile pet Blu (Jesse Eisenberg, whose high-register nattering is more distracting than endearing) and his mate Jewel (Anne Hathaway), two rare blue Spix’s macaws, take leave from their domesticated life in a Rio de Janeiro sanctuary. Along with their three kids, they head off to the remote jungle, where Blu’s former owner, Linda (Leslie Mann), and her ornithologist husband, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), have a lead on a rare wild tribe of the same species. There, the birds come across Jewel’s gruff, long-lost father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), and a preening potential romantic rival, Roberto (Bruno Mars), from Jewel’s childhood.
A love of music was at the heart of Rio, and so it is with the sequel as well, which mixes samba and bossa nova tunes and a couple awkward hip-hop interludes (courtesy of wearying supporting characters from Jamie Foxx and Will.i.am) alongside some legitimately entertaining Broadway-style musical numbers, plus a score from composer John Powell that never misses a chance to punch an emotive point.
The script, though—a much labored-on effort credited to four screenwriters—feels less smoothly integrated, and much more like an amalgamation of a bunch of sitcom bits, with discrete, standalone character riffs sprinkled over a quartet of story arcs that pop up in whack-a-mole fashion for sporadic payoff. The big idea, of course, is the Meet the Parents-style anxiety and general sense of displacement that Blu feels around Eduardo and in the Amazon, where he’s out of his element and uncertain of how to reconnect with Jewel. Then, in addition to Tulio and Linda squaring off against an evil land developer and some nonsense about carnivale auditions, there’s a narrative strand in which our protagonists are stalked by Blu’s old nemesis, a pompous and theatrical cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement), who is turn shadowed by Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), a poison female dart frog completely infatuated with him.
If that sounds somewhat like a random, grab-bag assortment of ideas designed to tick a bunch of boxes and please everyone, well, it is. Rather than dig down in any deep or meaningful manner into the notion of relationship drift—are Blu and Jewel really meant to be together, or was their courtship just the product of a lack of other options?—Rio 2 contents itself with vague, careful-not-to-offend environmental speechifying, and jokes about GPS and gender differences. Overstuffed and overly demonstrative, Saldanha’s film is at once perfectly fine and perfectly forgettable.
Brent Simon is a regular contributor to Screen Daily, Paste, Playboy, Magill’s Cinema Annualand ShockYa, among many other outlets, as well as a member and former three-term president of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. You can follow him on Twitter and on his blog.
Director: Carlos Saldanha
Writers: Don Rhymer, Carlos Kotkin, Jenny Bicks and Yoni Brenner
Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Leslie Mann, Andy Garcia, Bruno Mars, George Lopez, Rodrigo Santoro, Jemaine Clement, Jamie Foxx, Kristin Chenoweth, Will.i.am, Rita Moreno, Tracy Morgan
Release Date: April 11, 2014