Soaring soundtrack but shaky plot in animated ‘Rio 2’

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The promotional tag for “Rio 2” is “It’s on in the Amazon.”

The only thing that was “on” about this sad heap of an animated film was the soundtrack, featuring amazing vocal work from the likes of Janelle Monae, Bruno Mars and B.o.B. Otherwise, the sequel to “Rio” (2011) was a tired hour-and-a-half lecture on environmental conservation and family values through the platform of animated avians.

Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the two blue macaws from “Rio” that were supposedly the sole survivors of their species, have spawned three children since the last film. They take off for the Amazonian rainforest in pursuit of their human owners, Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), with their children and dear friends in tow. For a film whose title proclaims that it will be taking place in one of the biggest and most popular cities in Brazil, only 10 minutes of the film are actually spent in Rio.

Out in the Amazon, Jewel reunites with her father and the rest of her flock, whom she had assumed had perished in a fire. What ensues is the stereotypical awkward father-in-law-son-in-law dynamic, coupled with a jealous rivalry against Jewel’s former male best friend, Roberto (Bruno Mars). The “son-in-law needs to prove himself by performing various masculine tasks” schtick drags on for quite a bit, and for a movie directed toward children, much of the humor could be possibly lost on the kids.

Blu, a city bird that is portrayed as hopelessly uncoordinated when it comes to the jungle, is forced to bumble around for much of the film. Rather than provide us with a source of humorous material, Blu’s constant slip-ups become extremely aggravating for the viewer after the first half hour. Eisenberg’s “um, uh, erm” is endearing when we get to watch him shuffle around live-action situations, but it becomes grating as part of a voice-acting bit.

Meanwhile, an evil villain pursues illegal logging activities in the Amazon and must prevent Linda and Tulio from discovering his crimes. To complicate things further, an infatuated poison frog (Kristen Chenoweth) and a flightless bird (Jermaine Clement) team up with a clueless anteater to seek vengeance on Blu and his friends for causing said flightless bird’s current state of groundedness. It all sounds like a bad joke, but in reality it’s a script that probably shouldn’t have been greenlit in the first place.

Of course, all of this gets resolved with a sappy, happy-go-lucky ending wherein the birds work out their differences and fight the evil loggers for their stake in the rainforest. Granted, environmental conservation is an important lesson to be teaching to kids, but far too much camera time is spent following the humans around as they run after each other through the rainforest. The primary villain, symbolized by lollipops, is never truly flushed out and makes the victory at the end unfulfilling.

The one upside to this painfully long film are the musical bits. The animation of the jungle and choreography of the birds is stunningly colorful during these sequences. One of the side plots involves a couple of characters who tag along to the Amazon to bring back talent to Rio for a showcase at Carnival, one of the biggest festivals in the world. This setup gives way to a host of musical numbers and montages of singing panthers, orchestral mosquitoes and rapping sloths. These are some of the few instances in which the film is actually entertaining.

For the most part, the prolonged squawking of the blue macaw was antithetical to everything the film’s musical soundtrack represented — harmony, joy and tranquility.

Contact Lynn Yu at [email protected].