Movie review: 'Rio 2' feels a little too familiar

By Josh Terry

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, April 11 2014 2:49 p.m. MDT

Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) wields a spork as he navigates the Amazon.

Blue Sky Studios, TM and © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

If parents walk away from “Rio 2” feeling like they’ve seen it all before, no one should blame them. “Rio 2” should be entertaining enough for the kids, but the filmmakers clearly value recycling as much as the rainforest conservation message of the film itself. “Muppets Most Wanted” was up front about the “been there, done that” nature of sequels, but “Rio 2” just hopes you don’t notice.

After getting together in 2011’s first film, “Rio 2” finds Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) well into a life of domestic bird bliss, raising three children in Rio de Janeiro and doing their part to preserve their particular macaw species for future generations.

But when their old ornithologist human friends find signs that there could be more blue macaws out there, the whole family winds up on an impromptu trip deep into the Amazon jungle, where eventually they find an entire sanctuary brimming with blue macaws led by Jewel’s father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia).

Thus, “Rio 2” is built around a “meet the parents” scenario as Blu struggles to adjust his domesticated upbringing to the more rugged background of his wife and her family. It doesn’t help that Jewel’s old flame, Roberto (Bruno Mars), is still around, and still the apple of Eduardo’s eye.

But there are bigger problems to deal with. A shady entrepreneur wants to add the sanctuary to his illegal logging operation, and Blu’s old nemesis, Nigel (Jemaine Clement), is back with vengeance on his mind.

Like in the first film, “Rio 2” breaks out into original song from time to time (thanks to tunes from John Powell and Sergio Mendes, among others), so this film could at least provide an alternative for parents tired of hearing the “Frozen” soundtrack over and over again. To boost its street cred, “Rio 2” drafts Kristin Chenoweth into the cast as a multi-colored poison frog named Gabi whose comic obsession with Nigel leads to some memorable musical moments.

The plight of a lovesick frog unable to touch the object of her affection is amusing, but even that seems to echo Elsa’s predicament in “Frozen.” Still, even if they feel like a re-hash to adults, there are some nice themes in play. “Rio 2” may push its environmentalist message hard, but its thoughts on how to manage a successful marriage might have more sticking power.

“Rio 2” also boasts some excellent animation and a good sense of humor. Though compared to most of today’s animated fare, it lacks a lot of the “wink-wink” jokes aimed at the adults in the audiences. But if the kids are laughing, that’s probably the most important thing. They’ll also be happy to see characters voiced by Jaime Foxx and Tracy Morgan back from the first film.

As expected, “Rio 2” is available in 3D, and while it may not be essential to the experience, it looks good enough that you won’t feel like paying the premium was a waste of money.

The sum total kind of feels like a Vegas buffet: You get the feeling you’ve seen it all before, and in better quality, but having everything together in one spot is entertaining enough to get the job done.

“Rio 2” may not bring a lot of originality to the screen, but it’s a simple entertaining alternative to the movies the kids have already seen, and that might be just enough to turn a profit.

“Rio 2” is rated G and should be a pretty harmless experience for any audience, but parents might note a handful of scary moments (some played for laughs) that may come as a surprise for little ones.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photojournalist who appears weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" and also teaches English composition for Salt Lake Community College. You can see more of his work at woundedmosquito.com.

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