Director: Carlos Saldanha
Voices of: Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway
2 (out of 5) Globes
There are some obvious positive motivations behind “Rio” and its sequel. It’s an animated cash-gobbler that seeks to draw kids’ attention toward the bottom half of the globe, exposing them to other cultures — even as it boasts the vocal work of famous Americans (including numerous big name musicians). It’s an environmental screed that doesn’t play like a screed, which is to say it’s not the woebegone “Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.” That’s actually it. Good intentions don’t equal craft or entertainment value. They don’t even atone for this sequel, which exists primarily because the first one made a lot of money.
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Pretty and almost entirely vacant, “Rio 2” — from 20th Century Fox’s terminally underwhelming Blue Sky Studios, of “Ice Age” infamy — hangs back with literal lovebirds: the endangered blue macaws Blu (the stammering voice of Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway, apparently) united in a preservation home. In truth this is an actual human home, where they and their spawn have gotten used to cooking pancakes and making playlists.
If this seems like anthropomorphizing gone mad, then luckily word comes that our heroes aren’t, in fact, the last two macaws — that a mess of them are still flying around deep in the dangerous Amazon, including Jewel's relatives. The family flies away from the trappings of man to replay “Meet the Parents,” with Andy Garcia voicing the intimidating paterfamilias who doesn’t take kindly to Blu’s nebbishy, city-raised ways.
Blu’s fumbles for acceptance from the virile jungle folk are stock and thumb-twiddling, no less because Eisenberg is on nervous autopilot. He and Hathaway have no clear chemistry, in part because they almost certainly recorded their work at different times. In fact, while the colors are rainbow bright, the script is sleepy and uninspired. Even the business about a mean developer seeking to chop down parts of the Amazon basin feels less like a token lesson than just a way to burn screentime.
What does “Rio 2” (or “Rio,” for that matter) even want to be? Adults, with children or not, assume these monstrosities will placate them a little bit, namely with jokes that may or may not go over the heads of their pint-sized demographic. Every now and then “Rio 2” remembers to do this. There’s a not bad subplot about a vengeful cockatoo (Jemaine Clement), one of whose accomplices happens to be a poisonous frog (Kristin Chenoweth) who is unaccountably in love with him. The film peaks early when she sings an inspired mock-ballad about how she can’t even touch him. Another sudden fit of creativity comes later via a montage concerning talent show auditions for jungle critters, some of whom become food for other critters. These are but the few times “Rio 2” feels genuinely and suddenly desperate to entertain, not desperate to rake in bucks.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge