By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Golden Age of Animation that we've marveled at and enjoyed over the last few decades has provided us with so many glorious feature-length cartoon achievements, it's possible that a gem or two has gotten overlooked or taken for granted.
By my reckoning, that's pretty much what happened to 2011's Rio – which you rarely hear referenced -- a wonderfully bright and breezy 'toon that did big business internationally in 2011 but got lost in the critical and commercial shuffle on the national movie scene.
Exotic, exuberant, and exhilarating, Rio was, in a word, grand.
The sequel, Rio 2, is another lushly animated, vibrant musical comedy adventure that moves from the city to the Amazon rainforest. And, no, it's not the triumph its predecessor was. But if the sequel is not quite the equal of the original, it's in the ball park and, at the very least, doesn't miss the rainforest for the trees.
Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway return as the voices of Blu and Jewel, an odd couple of extremely rare blue macaws – come to think of it, perhaps the very last of their endangered species -- who have settled down in Rio de Janeiro, where they are raising their three chicks.
But now, because Jewel's former guardians, ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) and wife Linda (Leslie Mann), have reportedly found a hidden tribe of independent macaws deep in the rainforest thousands of miles from Rio, the family of five is off to the rainforest to meet Jewel's family -- including her long-lost father (Andy Garcia), who is to Rio 2 what Robert De Niro is to Meet the Parents.
Domesticated or not, unquestionably in love with and devoted to each other, Jewel and Blu are opposites who attract. Free-spirited Jewel continues to find Blu nerdy and unadventurous, while the better-safe-than-sorry Blu continues to find her pushy and reckless.
And they both find the fiendish cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement), back from the first film to cause more mischief, and his protégé Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), a poisonous frog, a revengeful threat to themselves and their little ones.
But they press on, intent on rediscovering their rainforest roots. And Blu will have to prove himself by walking on the wild side and protecting his adoptive tribe's forest habitat for the next generation.
George Lopez, Jamie Foxx, Bruno Mars, John Leguizamo, Rita Moreno, and the Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am help round out the fine voice cast.
The breathtaking re-creation of the Brazilian rainforest, its flora and fauna drenched in tropical color is, once again, CGI photorealism at its very best. And there is, as before, a subtle but strong ecological message embedded in the premise.
Brazilian-born director Carlos Saldanha (Rio, the Ice Age flicks) returns, working this time from a script by the returning Don Rhymer. The fine family film offers another round of crisp sight gags, beautifully choreographed aerial sequences, and stunning background imagery and detail. And perhaps the director overstuffs the final product with subplots, business, and background details. But the sky-high energy level never flags.
It's also a musical, with numbers that entertain even if they don't knock your socks off or travel home with you. Nevertheless, they're intricate and rousing and often funny song-and-dance set pieces featuring infectious samba and bossa nova music.
And a reminder, just something to keep in mind: while Rio 2 is available in currently popular 3-D, remember that the 3-D process, while providing whatever other pleasures it offers viewers, also reduces the brightness of this gloriously bright movie. If visual depth is what you seek, fine. But the 2-D version – the one for which you're not wearing the equivalent of sunglasses -- is brighter.
So we'll find macaws to celebrate 3 stars out of 4 for a rainforest romp that's another high-flying, eye-popping, briskly-paced, visually splendiferous musical avian adventure for kids of all ages.
Rio had brio to spare. Rio 2 has brio too.
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