Review: Amid ‘Rio 2’s’ cacophony, the musical numbers shine

Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their music-loving daughter, Carla (Rachel Crow), enjoy the exotic sounds of the jungle in "Rio 2."
Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their music-loving daughter, Carla (Rachel Crow), enjoy the exotic sounds of the jungle in “Rio 2.”
(Blue Sky Studios)

Wonderfully animated and well-voiced, “Rio 2" is nevertheless too much. Too much plot, too many issues, too many characters. But not too much music.

Yes, the musical numbers reach saturation levels, but the Latin-influenced jamming and singing are absolutely fabulous. “Rio 2’s” music might even save the 3-D animated action-adventure about endangered South American blue macaws from the terrible 2s that affect so many sequels.

The eclectic animal and human cast and respective star voices that “Rio” introduced in 2011 have all reconvened to continue the party. And the central troika responsible for “Rio’s” progressive percussive sound — composer John Powell, executive music producer Sergio Mendes and Brazilian singer-songwriter Carlinhos Brown — are back and even better.

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The movie starts with a massive new year’s celebration that looks and sounds a lot like Carnival. The great-looking character style of the first has been further refined, filling this imaginary world with appealing faces and intricate plumage, color bursting and completely in sync with the eye-popping frivolity going on, most of it seen from a bird’s eye view.

Those rare billing and cooing macaws, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), have become quite domesticated while raising their expanding brood. The chicks — studious Bia (Amandla Stenberg), adventurous Tiago (Pierce Gagnon) and teenage Carla (Rachel Crow) — are in various stages of becoming their own bird, which sets up some family friction.

Blu’s human friends, eco-activists Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) and Linda (Leslie Mann), are off in the Amazon trying to stop unlawful logging in the rain forest. When Tulio spots a random blue macaw feather, he becomes convinced there are more birds to be found. Word of the discovery hits the 24-hour news cycle and Jewel decides a search for a flock is as good a reason as any to give her citified kids a chance to connect with their inner wild thing. Blu, still nerdy after all these years, sporting a fanny pack using a GPS for navigation, is reluctant, but outnumbered.

This is merely director Carlos Saldanha’s sometimes sluggish windup. Blu, Jewel, family and friends — Nico (Jamie Foxx), Pedro (, Rafael (George Lopez) and Luiz (Tracy Morgan) — may be heading to the Amazon, but Yoni Brenner’s script is heading in a dozen different directions.

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To the Rio waterfront, for one, where the pompous Nigel (Jemaine Clement) is quoting Shakespeare, decrying the carnival sideshow he’s chained to and deflecting the unwanted attention of his terribly annoying, terribly adoring fan, Gabi. Kristin Chenoweth is the irresistible voice of the poisonous frog and stands as one of the film’s best new additions.

This trio is responsible for some of “Rio 2’s” cleverest hijinks as Gabi and a tap-dancing anteater named Charlie, who uses his tongue not for talking but for several super sight gags, set Nigel free and follow him to the jungle so he can settle a grudge with Blu.

Then it’s off to tour the director’s favorite regional attractions. At least this detour across Brazil is made visually interesting with a temporary shift to a paper cutout animation style so that the screen occasionally looks like a pop-up book brought to life.

Things improve significantly when all the parties finally arrive in the Amazon, truly an animation paradise of possibilities from the dense undergrowth to the exotic creatures.

Throughout the film, Blu is in the pressure cooker, with Eisenberg improving as the temperature rises. No one turns it up higher than Eduardo (Andy Garcia), the father-in-law the nerdy bird’s just met. The crusty old leader of the Amazon River’s hidden macaw tribe isn’t exactly impressed with his son-in-law, or his son-in-law’s fanny pack. There will be tests.

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A major one is Roberto (Bruno Mars), Jewel’s old flame. Thanks to Mars, Roberto’s a smooth operator, flirty and funny — and that voice. If there is a “Rio 3,” sigh, let’s at least lobby to have Roberto and Gabi, the lovely Broadway frog, take over.

That the film doesn’t need Blu so much is underscored when Nico, Pedro and pals set up Carnival auditions in the heart of the jungle. All the musical and animation stops are pulled out for a series of show-stopping numbers.

Meanwhile the illegal loggers log, Tulio and Linda protest, Jewel goes slightly wild, the kids go rogue, the Carnival auditions go overtime, Nigel shows up with his scraggly remaining feathers seriously ruffled, and Blu loses his GPS. Whatever is a very blue blue macaw to do?

In trying to fly too high, “Rio 2" does too much flailing and floundering to soar. At least the music never misses a beat.


‘Rio 2'

MPAA rating: G

Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes

Playing: In general release