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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Rio 2 review: jungle feeble

rio2

This is what passes for a children’s movie these days: a 1950s sitcom drawn in pretty tropical CGI colors with a few mostly forgettable songs tossed in.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): was not a fan of the first film

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Why the hell anyone thinks kids would be interested in the marital happiness of a bird boy is beyond me. But this is what passes for a children’s movie these days: a 1950s sitcom drawn in pretty tropical CGI colors with a few mostly forgettable songs tossed in. Nerd bird Blu (the voice of Jesse Eisenberg: Now You See Me, The Social Network) was happy when last we saw him, at the end of the stridently mediocre Rio, and clearly that could not stand. So here, in the oh-so-creatively entitled Rio 2, his relationship with Jewel (the voice of Anne Hathaway: Les Misérables, The Dark Knight Rises), the only other blue macaw left in the world, is challenged when they take a “family vacation” from the rare-bird sanctuary they live at in Rio de Janeiro with their three hatchlings and travel deep into the Amazon.

Oh! But Blu’s sitcom-ish trials are many, and tedious, and nothing you haven’t seen a hundred times before. He is a civilized city bird who does not travel without his GPS and his toothbrush, and there’s bugs and stuff in the jungle: yuck. And what’s this? Blu and Jewel stumble upon a lost tribe of blue macaws, which includes her father, Eduardo (the voice of Andy Garcia: City Island, Ocean’s Thirteen)… which means, of course, that he is Blu’s father-in-law, which means that Blu will be subject to a barrage of abuse about how Blu is not a suitable mate for Eduardo’s daughter. As required by the Traditional Sitcom Rules, there will also be perceived competition for Jewel’s affections in the form of Roberto (the voice of Bruno Mars), studly and manly, who grew up with Jewel — they even have cutesy nicknames for each other! (Bizarrely, Jewel’s sitcom-wacky Aunt Mimi [the voice of Rita Moreno: King of the Corner, West Side Story] disappears almost as soon as she is introduced. Returning screenwriters Don Rhymer [Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son, Surf’s Up] and Carlos Saldanha [Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Robots], the latter of whom also is also returning as director, have obviously fallen down on the job.)

Also as required by the Traditional Sitcom Rules, Jewel must be unwaveringly faithful and devoted to her dork of a husband, and Blu must do everything he possibly can, including denying his own needs and desires, to keep his “hot” wife. By the time Blu muttered, “A happy wife is a happy life” for the third — or was it the fourth? — time, I thought, “Stop being such damn doormat.” Is this a lesson we want little boys to learn? Ugh. (See? Conventional, conservative values are no better for boys and men than they are for girls and women.)

The villainous Nigel the cockatoo (the marvelous voice of Jemaine Clement: Muppets Most Wanted, Men in Black III) returns as well, and he is the most sympathetic character here. As we are reintroduced to him, he is being held captive by a human and forced to do tricks for tourists to earn the human money. His destructive escape is a happy bit of vengeance. The best bit in the whole flick is the wonderfully demented sequence in which Nigel’s sidekick, poisonous frog Gabi (the glorious voice of Kristin Chenoweth: Four Christmases, Space Chimps), sings of her tragic love for Nigel… tragic because the toxin her skin exudes means she can never touch him.

Human villains pop up, too: loggers clear-cutting the forest for shits, giggles, and greed. The birds fight back. If Rio 2 gets kids interested in ecology and conservation, I can hold my nose and let the rest of it slide. But why should I have to? The tiniest application of effort could have given us a story that doesn’t feel like a reject from Everybody Loves Raymond or The King of Queens. Won’t someone think of the children?


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Rio 2 (2014)
US/Can release: Apr 11 2014
UK/Ire release: Apr 04 2014

Flick Filosopher Real Rating: rated C for Crayola porn -- ooo, all the pretty colors
MPAA: rated G
BBFC: rated U (contains mild comic threat, slapstick)

viewed in 3D
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • Rick Baumhauer

    You know, I’ve often had the same feeling regarding Blue Sky’s animated features – the jokes are too broad, too sitcom-y, with little evidence of actual sharpness of observation or wit. Then it hit me, while watching the preview for “Rio 2”: as much as we hear about how much the US movie industry relies on worldwide box office, Blue Sky really seems to be shooting first for what marketers would probably call the ‘urban’ US market (I’m sure they also play well internationally, though). They’ve definitely made an effort to be more diverse in the voice talent they use (as much as I love them, Disney and Pixar skew very white in this area), and don’t discount the notion that there are a fair number of parents/grandparents in this market for whom English is a second language.

    I guess what I’m saying is, Blue Sky doesn’t really seem to be making these for me and/or my (purely theoretical) children, and that’s fine. We can wish that they aimed a little higher, but I don’t know that it would gain them anything, and it might hurt them with their core audience. Not every kids movie has to have something to attract 40-something white animation nerds who grew up on a steady diet of Warner Brothers cartoons, and have been blessed with two decades of general excellence from Pixar (“Cars” excepted).

  • ebolaoutkast

    Blue Sky is filled with talentless hacks.

  • IF this is true, then I’m terrified for what it means for the Peanuts movie.

  • Bluejay

    the stridently Rio

    What was the missing word there, MaryAnn?

  • Bluejay

    Blue Sky really seems to be shooting first for what marketers would probably call the ‘urban’ US market

    What is the “urban US market”?

    We can wish that they aimed a little higher, but I don’t know that it would gain them anything, and it might hurt them with their core audience.

    I would assume that aiming for higher quality gets better reviews and bigger audiences. How would they lose the core audience by doing so? Did the “urban US market” not show up for Frozen, or any of the excellent Pixar films?

  • “Mediocre,” which I’ve added back in.

    The omission is completely bizarre. The word is there in the text I sent to the publicist, which is the last step I do before formatting a review for posting. I don’t know how it disappeared here.

    Thanks for pointing out the error.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Conventional, conservative values means putting up with a potential rival for your wife’s affections just to keep your wife happy? That’s not the sort of thing I observed from the conservative Latins I grew up with. But this cartoon is obviously not supposed to be realistic. And the trailer made it seem even worse than the last one.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Who flee into the alms of America…

  • Tonio Kruger

    “Urban” is usually an euphemism for “black” or “African-American” though in this case, it obviously refers to Latinos as well. Which is odd because you would think the Spanish-surnamed songwriters for Frozen would qualify as “urban” by that type of definition.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Apparently blacks and Latinos in the US did not grow up watching Warner Brothers cartoons.;)

  • Bluejay

    “Urban” is usually an euphemism for “black” or “African-American” though in this case, it obviously refers to Latinos as well.

    Yeah, I know, I was trying to get Rick to say it. ;-) I don’t care for that euphemism. If you’re going to talk about race, go ahead and talk about race.

    And the more I reread his comment, the more offensive I find the suggestion that it’s okay for blacks and Latinos to be targeted by films that don’t meet the standards of excellence set by the films that “white animation nerds” have been “blessed with” seeing. (And as you point out, there’s no reason to suppose that blacks and Latinos haven’t seen those same films.) What, they don’t deserve or can’t appreciate good storytelling? We should be demanding excellence from everyone.

  • bronxbee

    really? i didn’t know that… can you cite some article or statistics on that?

  • Rick Baumhauer

    You know, I almost mentioned that specifically, but my wife pointed out that it’s unlikely that white kids grow up watching Warner Brothers cartoons now, either. Maybe it’s that their parents (who are my age and younger) didn’t grow up watching them?

    As a suburban white kid in the 70s, I certainly did, and because I’m an animation nerd, I eventually understood the way that those cartoons were directed at kids and adults in different ways, and came to see that as a mark of quality. Pixar does something similar, though not in exactly the same way, with most of their features. That certainly seems to be missing in Blue Sky’s features, but the Scrat interstitials in the (otherwise forgettable) ‘Ice Age’ movies definitely showed a strong Warner Brothers/Tex Avery influence.

    I think there’s *something* cultural going on with Blue Sky, but as a middle-aged suburban white guy, there’s a lot I undoubtedly am not picking up on (or perhaps misreading). I just know that I saw a LOT of shades of brown skin in the “Rio 2” trailer (entirely appropriately, since I think they’re showing Brazil), noticed more diversity in the voice talent, and also didn’t find any of it enticing or funny. I also know that, given some exposure to things like “Sabado Gigante” and sitcoms directed at African-Americans, the humor seems very broad to me, like the last 20+ years (or much more, in the case of “Sabado Gigante”) of TV comedy never happened.

  • Danielm80

    I think Chris Rock based his entire personality on Bugs Bunny.

  • Rick Baumhauer

    A fair criticism – I was clearly trying to tip-toe around making it explicitly racial, and also trying not to be condescending, and probably failed on both marks.

    I’m not saying that all audiences don’t deserve great storytelling, but there’s clearly a reason why Blue Sky has made a string of reasonably successful animated features that I (and many critics) find lackluster at best, right? Pixar is setting the bar in most ways, so why isn’t everybody aiming that high? What is the cost of making an animated feature that will be seen as more than “just a kids’ movie”?

    Your suggestion that higher quality would ‘get better reviews and bigger audiences’ betrays too much belief in the impact of reviews on the success of kids’ movies. If mom wants to take the kids to a movie, she’s (typically) not going to read reviews. She’s going to remember the trailer they saw at another kids movie, or the TV commercial she saw in the last week. Only movie buffs read reviews, and opening weekend box office is determined, overwhelmingly, by people who don’t read reviews. If the marketing worked, opening weekend box office will then create another data point when the mass-market entertainment news shows give the weekend numbers (“X was really popular – maybe I’ll take the kids to see that”). “Frozen” just passed “Toy Story 3” in total box office while scoring 10% lower (99% to 89%) on RottenTomatoes with critics, but has the same audience rating (89%). And that’s far from an extreme example.

  • Jonathan Roth

    Yeah, that’s my big concern too. My hope is that decades of classic Peanuts material gives the writers structure.

  • Danielm80

    I know that no one ever went broke underestimating the American public, but if you don’t want to be condescending, then don’t write a comment that says, in essence: No one cares about quality except for people exactly like me. Not everybody reads reviews, but people do want to see a good movie. If they don’t pay attention to critics, they do pay attention to their friends and to ads and previews. There have been studies indicating that well-reviewed movies do better at the box office (with some glaring exceptions).

    You’ve already insulted African-Americans, Latinos, and moms (and by implication, perhaps, their kids, who apparently don’t care about quality, either). Maybe you should stop talking before you put your foot further in your mouth.

  • Rick Baumhauer

    Not what I intended, at all.

    I’m not saying that ‘nobody cares about quality except people exactly like me’, but that quality is very subjective (duh) and that maybe Blue Sky isn’t even trying to hit the beats that denote quality to me. I don’t know why they’re doing that, but I have some ideas that may or may not be correct.

  • No, a conservative, conventional value is giving in to your wife’s desire to leave the life you’ve built together behind, without even asking your opinion on that, ahead of your desire not to do that, because you don’t want your wife to become an unhappy nag, which she will if you don’t keep her happy, because she literally has nothing else in her life except housewifery.

    These characters are not Latino, however. Though Jewel should be, at least, since she’s from Rio. How anyone figured Anne Hathaway was right for her voice is a mystery.

  • bronxbee

    “alms”? or “arms”?

  • Tonio Kruger

    Er, alms. Because they are hacks and thus interested mostly in money. Though I get the feeling I should have stuck with arms because of the obvious U2 reference. My bad.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Er, I was being sarcastic. Sorry for the confusion.

  • Tonio Kruger

    Oy vey!

  • bronxbee

    i knew it worked either way, just wanted to be sure.

  • casio

    As a person who works there, I’ll disagree, of course. Ironically, as an admirer of some of your other articles (under Melissa A Smith), this trolling of the work and careers of 500 people (many of whom have also worked at Pixar, ILM, Disney, and more), rather than the movie itself, is in poor taste. Somewhat at odds with the values you try to portray in your other articles. But, that’s the internet for you.

  • ebolaoutkast

    How do you know of my articles? I doubt you happened to just happened to find me here…
    Since I posted here once, your claim that I am ‘trolling’ shows you must have read what I’ve written on IMDB. Stop taking things so literally. I’m sure there are plenty of talented people working there, animation/production-wise.

    Maybe there are even people with writing ability and good ideas.

    They obviously aren’t the ones in charge.

    All of their movies that I’ve seen (Robots, Ice Age and various crapola sequels, and Rio) are either mediocre or horrendous. Maybe Horton was OK, I don’t remember it so well. I saw Ice Age when I was 14 and hated it vehemently, it inspired me to start writing reviews at the time. Jokes are so painfully recycled and I feel as though the creators expect me to laugh just because characters are talking animals.

    I think my values are perfectly in tact. I’m not trying to ban Blue Sky, just expressing my opinion on their work.

  • Instead of picking on the commenter, why not try defending Blue Sky’s films?

  • casio

    No, I was referring to a hubpages article about the ethical treatment of animals, which I had read previously(some are quite good, you should do more). It was a quick google search of your distinctive user name that revealed (in that “huh?” kind of way) that they are the same, else I wouldn’t have commented at all, the coincidence was too much. I don’t read IMDB, but I do read rottentomatoes reviews from time to time, hence this exchange.

    As to defending the film itself, I don’t see the merit in it. I think the point of film criticism is to be able to make any judgement call about any film and have it be valid. Each person’s view is equally as poignant and topical as any other, which is awesome but makes for a futile debate topic.

    Value statements about people (IE “Blue Sky is filled with talentless hacks), I believe, are different. This is the only distinction I am trying to highlight and present as food for thought. The film industry is quite small, animation is even more so. The
    artists that worked on a movie you liked are almost guaranteed to be the same ones that worked on one you didn’t.

  • ebolaoutkast

    Fine, I’ve narrowed down my list. Carlos Saldanha, director of Ice Age: The Meltdown, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and Rio, co-director of Ice Age and Robots, which are all terrible, is a talentless hack. Hasn’t directed one worthy film to avoid the label.

    Earl Richey Jones, co-writer of Rio, has some pretty horrendous titles himself. Michael J. Wilson, writer of Shark Tale and the Tuxedo, need I say more?
    As I continue down the list of writers on IMDB, it is becoming shockingly clear why this studio can’t churn out something halfway decent. Chris Wedge, co-director of Ice Age, more bad credits. And Epic, I actually started watching online after my comment. Bad bad bad (so far, if I decide to finish it).

    I’m honestly appalled that so many people were involved with these bad movies, while often the best movies involve one or two people with writing or directing. Sad. It also irritates me that there are so many talented people out there who won’t get the opportunity to direct major films while these individuals can get nominated for Oscars thanks to the hack animated film award.

    Anyway, thanks for the compliment about my article.

  • Paloma

    As someone who lives in Brazil and sees the impact this movies is having here: I think Rick is onto something. Ice age was a huge success amongst families here. As was Rio.

    Saldanha’s style and humour seems to ressonate well with families here, it DOES seem to be a bit of a cultural thing.

  • So, kids in Brazil care about whether a bird is happily married?

  • John

    Hey MaryAnn, fuck you

  • John

    Rio 2 is an amazingly entertaining film. Soulless bitch, go get a real job

  • Nichoas

    Going to Moose Lake, Minnesota is the best idea I have heard for a third Rio movie. I am a huge fan of the Rio series. The first movie was a spectacular stand out from all the others. Then the second came along. There was to much going on it was hard to keep up in a few parts. I think that there 2nd movie was border line to failing, but if they drop out on a few things and focus on one or two “plots” they might have a chance to bring it back in the third.

    Because I am a huge fan, I think that the rio series (if they have the money and time) should continue on until a 6th movie. I know it sounds crazy, but if you gave me a pen and some paper and told me to write the whole plot(s) of the next 4 movies, I could and I would.

    If you have any thoughts or comments please email me at nicholas.hinson@yahoo.com. Even if you want to organize a convention for fans like me please let me know. (BTW, check out he fan fiction “book” athttps://www.fanfiction.net/s/8…

  • Mr. Awesome

    Pro: -Teaches you a lesson
    – Actually has a genuine beginning, middle, and end
    – Has a meaning, good voice acting, good animation, and super good characters.
    Cons: Absolutely Nothing
    Sentence: RIO 2 is one of the best movies. You’re either just jealous or a bad critic.

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