Two and a half stars (out of four)
By BRUCE DEMARA
Blu is back and he’s still, to use a metaphor with an animal theme, a fish out of water.
Rio 2 picks up where the first one left off and, despite an opening scene that takes place during New Year’s Eve celebrations in Brazil’s party-hearty capital, most of the action takes place in the Amazon jungle to the north.
There, Blu and Jewel and their three boisterous chicks go in search of a flock of fellow Spix’s macaws in a remote forest enclave where Blu — raised as a pet in Moose Lake, Minnesota — finds it hard to adapt to all the “creepy” bugs and such.
Blu is still much too attached to his GPS device and fanny-pack, much to the disgust of his disapproving and derisive father-in-law, Eduardo. Blu’s old adversary, Nigel, is also back and bent on revenge after having his feathers fatefully clipped in the first film.
Meanwhile, Blu’s former owner, Linda, and her Brazilian ornithologist friend, Tulio, are menaced by a gang of illegal loggers led by an evil guy who dismisses them as tree-huggers.
Director Carlos Saldanha doesn’t mess with the formula that made the first Rio a $500-million box office bonanza, with many of the same characters — such as Luiz, Pedro and Nico — back.
But, using the jungle setting, Saldanha also introduces a couple of new animal characters, including a poison dart frog named Gabi (delightfully voiced by Kristin Chenoweth) and a silent tamandua named Charlie along with some delightfully mischievous monkeys, a couple of amusingly slow-dancing turtles and a boa constrictor who plays a brief but important role in dispatching the chief villain.
The voice work is well done, with Jesse Eisenberg as Blu and Anne Hathaway nicely fleshing out their respective characters and Jermaine Clement is wonderfully arch as the Shakespeare-quoting Nigel. Bruno Mars is good fun as the preening Roberto, a prospective rival for Jewel’s affections, and Andy Garcia is the archetypically haughty father-in-law Eduardo.
There’s plenty of lively and inventive production numbers throughout and the animation, including the 3-D effects, is top-notch.
The storyline is a bit on the scant side so adults aren’t going to find it terribly engaging. But younger audiences, preteen and earlier, are going to come away with a couple of useful lessons — the first about not rushing to judgment about others, and the larger one on the importance of protecting nature from human depredation — that are presented in a way that is entertaining with a minimal of preachiness.
Those who enjoyed the adventures of Blu and Jewel and company in the first Rio are going to find the sequel an equally pleasing diversion.