Rio-2

The best you can hope for going into a children’s film is that it’ll be able to give you as an adult something to connect with. The least you can hope for is that it will be tolerable. The most you can fear is that it will turn out to be an actively embarrassing experience for you. Rio 2 is, unfortunately, of that last kind. It has a laziness that makes it somehow stoop even lower than pop culture reference humor. Kids will love it, most likely, but as I have said many times: kids will love anything loud and colorful enough.

Since the first Rio, endangered Spix’s Macaws Blu (Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway) have started a family, hatching three little ones. It turns out that their pairing isn’t as crucial to their species’ survival as they once thought, though, as Blu’s former owner Linda (Leslie Mann) and her ornithologist husband Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) discover a whole colony of the Macaws deep in the Amazon. Deciding that city life has made their kids too soft, Jewel insists that they go to meet this group. With their wacky, single-attribute friends in tow, the family flies from Rio to the rainforest, making the movie’s title quite inaccurate.

Rio 2 has a critical mass of famous actors doing voices that makes the most desperate of the Shrek movies seem restrained. Bruno Mars, George Lopez, will.i.am, Jamie Foxx, Andy Garcia, Janelle Monáe, Kristin Chenoweth, Rita Moreno, Tracy Morgan, and more all turn up, mostly in utterly superfluous minor roles. What’s the point of bringing in Natalie Morales to do five lines as a news reporter? So much money could be saved by getting a voice actor who can actually emote. It also creates a very strange situation where two very white actors lead an incredibly diverse cast that is presumably meant to represent the racial menagerie of Brazil.

But what’s stranger is that this movie for kids is all about themes that seem targeted straight at adults. Blu’s big concern in the film is measuring up to the standards of his newfound father-in-law (Garcia) and his fear that he’ll lose Jewel to Roberto (Mars), her childhood friend. In-laws? Marital jealousy? This is what you choose to focus on? There’s also a subplot about Linda and Tulio running afoul of an illegal logging operation run by a breathtakingly ill-conceived villain. Voiced by Miguel Ferrer, he appears to have stepped straight out of a rerun of Captain Planet, so over-the-top contemptuous is he of “tree-huggers.” So broad is this movie’s environmental message that it made me want to burn down an acre of rainforest just to spite it.

The film also has a half-dozen other go-nowhere subplots buzzing through it. One follows Nigel (Jermaine Clement) the cockatoo villain from the first Rio, following Blu’s family in hopes of exacting revenge on them for Blu’s crippling of him. In tow are a psychotic tree frog (Chenoweth) and a silent anteater who acts like Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character (he’s named Charlie and wears a bowler hat, in case you might miss the reference). While they move completely unknown by the protagonists and have no effect on the plot until an afterthought at the end, they are at least interesting to watch. A flightless cockatoo, a frog who is in love with him but can’t touch him because she’s poisonous, and a miming anteater are a more original set of leads than a boring family of blue birds.

Rio 2 has both “in-movie” and fantasy musical sequences, making it even more confused. It is, overall, the result of throwing almost everything at the wall and seeing what sticks… and then nailing whatever doesn’t stick up on the wall anyway. It runs the gamut from the gallows humor of piranhas devouring performing capybaras to a monkey reenacting Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball video. And it is all pulled off in the most cringeworthy fashion possible. By now, it’s clear that if Dreamworks is low-rent Pixar, then Blue Sky is low-rent Dreamworks. So show your kids something better.