Written by Don Rhymer, Carlos Saldhana and more
Directed by Carlos Saldhana
Starring Jesse Eisenberg, Anne Hathaway, Andy Garcia, Kristin Chenowith, Jemaine Clement and more
What happens when the characters in an animated movie grow up too much?
“Rio 2,” the latest adventure of an anxiety-ridden blue macaw and his family, offers a sweet, surprisingly nuanced look at the responsibilities and pleasures of marriage and commitment. Unfortunately, so much of the movie seems devoted to this that I can’t help but think the creators forgot there would be kids in the audience.
For those who didn’t see the first movie, the star of the series is a blue macaw named Blu who is much more comfortable in civilization than he is in the jungle. He traveled to Brazil to start a family with a bird who everyone thought was the only other blue macaw in existence, naturally having several comic misadventures along the way.
In “Rio 2” the couple face the problem of whether to raise their family in civilization or in the wild. Then a plot twist (which I can’t talk about without spoiling it) forces Blue to face even more questions about his relationship with his wife and what it means to be a good husband and father.
There are also evil loggers and the return of a Shakespeare-quoting villain from the first movie, but neither plot device really causes problems for our heroes until the very end. For most of the movie, the focus is squarely on the emotional commitments and responsibilities of the main avian couple. For anyone who has addressed those issues in their own lives, it’s profound stuff. But how many 4 to 12 year olds are even thinking about this yet?
In fact, even the Shakespearean bird spends most of the movie involved in a semi-tragic romantic subplot with a tiny, bright-pink poisonous frog named Gabi. They’ve turned down Nigel’s menace a notch, making him actually funnier than he was in the first movie, but Gabi’s entire character is based around her unrequited love for him. There’s an entire musical number about the fact that she can’t touch him without killing him horribly, which is beautifully sung but a little too weird for the movie to successfully handle.
Normally, I would be the first to champion an animated movie that worked so hard to pay attention to the adults in the audience. But the best ones don’t forget either the adults or the kids who might be watching, delivering a movie that works on multiple levels (“The Lego Movie” being an excellent recent example.) Except for a couple of notable scenes and a light smattering of physical humor, I’m not sure what’s here for the younger crowd.
Admittedly, those few scenes are fantastic. There’s an early moment where Blu is cooking pancakes and playing blueberry soccer with his kids that is a delight from beginning to end, and the final battle manages to be fun, exciting and visually inventive all at once. But it’s not enough, and in the end the movie suffers for it.
I applaud the trend of creating animated movies that can appeal to all ages. But that doesn’t mean they should forget the audience they were meant for in the first place.