There is a puzzlingly extensive history in computer-animated films (especially sequels) of stories about confronting the perils of fatherhood. From Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs and Shrek Forever After to Finding Nemo and this year’s Mr. Peabody & Sherman, nearly every animation studio has a film designed to occupy kids with kaleidoscopically bright colors while dealing with adult domestic consternation. Rio 2 is another addition to that legacy, shifting from the romantic-comedy adventure of the first installment to depict the difficulties of compromising an ideal lifestyle to adjust for family responsibilities.
Following the events of the previous film, endangered Spix’s macaw Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) now have three rambunctious kids. They live in Brazil with coupled owners Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro, the hated Paulo from Lost), who now work together as ornithologists. Jewel wants the kids to know how to survive in the wild, while Blu struggles to let go of his domestic perks. While on an expedition, Linda and Tulio uncover a hidden flock of Spix’s macaws, inspiring Jewel and Blu to take their kids on a journey through the Amazon. But the owners also run afoul of an illegal logging operation that threatens the birds’ secluded habitat.
Once out in the forest, Blu and his family find the macaws, including Jewel’s missing father Eduardo (Andy Garcia) and pretty-boy childhood friend Roberto (Bruno Mars). Blu’s over-reliance on technology—he brings along a fanny pack with a GPS and breath mints—doesn’t mesh with Eduardo’s anti-human leadership. And his discomfort with rainforest life puts him at odds with his rejuvenated partner and thriving kids. He doesn’t fit in, sure, but it’s because he fears inadequacy and the community won’t make room for a strange bird of his type.
Like the first film, Rio 2 is almost oppressively bright, bombarding the screen with flashes of saturated rainforest colors and even a bird version of soccer (timed a bit too perfectly to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil). But what really drags things down is an overabundance of subplots. Will.I.Am, Jamie Foxx, and George Lopez’s characters all tag along into the forest under the guise of scouting new talent for Carnival. The auditions (especially an inspired use of capoeira) are the funniest part of the film, but they’re also a largely unnecessary time-filler. And Nigel (Jemaine Clement), the disgraced evil cockatoo from the original, reappears in a bumbling attempt at revenge, accompanied by a lovestruck tree frog (Kristin Chenoweth) and a vaudevillian hungry anteater. Think of these superfluous characters as an additional comic-relief insurance policy.
Rio was largely confined to the Brazilian city leading up to Carnival, and stuck to a smaller subtextual purview of anti-smuggling and endangered animal protection. Rio 2 expands this viewpoint, underlining rainforest conservation, deforestation, and broader state-mandated preservation. Put another way: If Fox News found the blatant satirical humor of The Muppets anti-capitalist, somebody will find a way to clutch pearls over the environmentalist message and industrial villain here (regardless of his business’ deliberately shady nature). But despite the attempts at broadening the secondary ideological themes, this is another familiar father-in-crisis tale, dotted with musical interludes for Chenoweth and Clement, and dressed in brighter plumage.