The gang’s all here again in “Rio 2,” a bright animated musical that’s sure to please the kids in the audience, and likely to at least hold the interest of the grownups. Jesse Eisenberg is back as the neurotic Blu, a suburban spix’s macaw now living in Rio de Janeiro along with his wife, Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and three kids. When a television report tips Jewel off that their family might not be the only blue spix’s macaws left on earth, the crew flies into the heart of the Amazon to find the rest of their family, and meet up with Blu’s former caretakers Linda and Tulio.
On the way, they attract the attention and ire of Nigel, a clipped-wing cockatoo with a penchant for theatricality and a thirst for revenge, having been foiled by Blu in the first "Rio" movie. Along with a silent anteater and a singing poison dart frog (Kristen Chenowith), Nigel pursues the happy family. Meanwhile, a group of loggers is determined to slash and burn their way through the jungle, even if it means disrupting Linda and Tulio’s efforts to save their newly found flock of blue spix’s macaws.
The three plot lines compete for attention, and suffer because of it. Linda and Tulio, equal-in-time characters in the first film, are mostly here to move plot points along. And the picture ends with an unlikely battle against the loggers that reminded me of “Avatar.” There are moments of pure joy in “Rio 2,” such as Gabi the frog’s song of unrequited love for Nigel the cockatoo, and of human (ahem, yes I know they’re birds) insight, as Blu tries desperately to connect with Jewel’s extended family, but mostly it's a colorful way to spend an hour and a half.
“Rio 2” also brings back composer John Powell ("How To Train Your Dragon"), whose score is infused with the sounds and musicians of Brazil, including the percussion group Uakti, and singer Milton Nascimento. The soundtrack is cheery and melodic, and Powell should pick up a second Oscar nomination, provided the Academy doesn’t feel he's leaning too hard on his collaborators.
Visually, the bright look of the film befits the setting. What a drag to have to dim the image with 3D glasses. I’d recommend seeing the movie in 2D for a more eye-popping experience. However, one clever sequence in 3D that delighted me is worth noting. As the birds make their way from Rio into the center of Brazil, they pass through a virtual map of the country where landmarks like Christ the Redeemer, the Cathedral of Brasilia, and the National Congress Building rise and fall like the pages of a pop-up book. The director, Carlos Saldanha, clearly loves showing off his native country, and the swooping camera flights are a great way to show off the country ahead of the next Summer Olympics. If he works fast enough, there may be enough time to get “Rio 3” completed by August 5, 2016.
Parents, take note: there are quick scenes of animals eating other animals, and a death scene that mimics the suicide of Romeo & Juliet (the animals don’t really die).