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Non-Review Review: Rio 2

Rio 2 is a solidly-constructed sequel. It lacks the emotional heft that has come to distinguish most of the more memorable family films. Instead, it opts for a constant barrage of music and colour to keep the young audience engaged. Nothing ever lingers too long, with a set piece or a musical number sure to kick off within a scene or two. There’s nothing wrong with this approach – Rio 2 is a perfectly enjoyable piece of family film.

At the same time, it never slows itself down (or even tones itself down) long enough for use to invest in the characters. There is always something happening, which means that our characters never seem to catch their breath. Given the movie’s story touches on heavy themes like connecting with one’s roots, cultural identity, and environmentalism, there is a sense that these ideas might work better if given room to breath a bit.

Still, the result is engaging and diverting, if not entirely satisfying.

All the way to Rio...

All the way to Rio…

The movie runs for just over an hour-and-half, but it fits in an incredible amount of threads and subplots and story ideas. Jewel reconnects with her family, including a bossy father and a confident ex-boyfriend; Blu must try to balance his domestic and natural urges; Nico and Pedro are trying to find the unique sound of the Amazon; Linda and Tulia are hunting for endangered species; evil loggers are planning to demolish parts of the Amazon; two local bird tribes exist on the brink of war; the evil Nigel and his sidekicks plot a sinister revenge.

There’s a sense that Rio 2 is playfully aware of just how overstuffed it is. Most of them overlap towards the climax, but several feel surplus to requirement. One of the movie’s better recurring gags is that way that Nigel’s villainous plots are so brilliantly ineffective that they have absolutely no impact on the unfolding of the story. Blu doesn’t even realise that Nigel is pursuing him until the climax of the story; there is so much going on around him that “old enemy plots to assassinate protagonist” is bumped squarely to the bottom of the problems to be dealt with today.

... of a feather...

… of a feather…

And, to be fair to Rio 2, it manages an efficient job of getting through all the material it has apportioned itself, even if that means moving at a rapid clip. There’s barely any time to fully appreciate one dynamic or set-up before another comes along to replace it. Rio 2 is a vibrant and colourful film – the sound of the movie is striking, and the visual design is delightfully cartoonish. The primary colours do a lot to convey the beauty of the world the film seeks to capture, but they are slightly undercut by the decision to release the film in 3D. There, the colours feel slightly muted.

Oddly enough, it’s actually in Nigel’s weirdly disconnected subplot that Rio 2 works best. Blu and Jewel are pulled several directions in any one scene, but the character dynamics around our villainous Cockatoo are a lot simpler. In fact, they seem almost playful. The movie’s big emotional number (Poisonous Love) is given to Nigel’s tragic admirer, the poisonous frog Gabi, delivered wonderfully by Kristin Chenoweth in what feels like a parody of a show-stopping Disney number. The movie’s soundtrack reaches a zenith with a deliciously campy version of I Will Survive as performed Nigel, played by Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement.

Sing when you're winning...

Sing when you’re winning…

The rest of the movie is functional, if a little overly familiar in places. The environmental themes are perfectly fine, and thematically appropriate for a film like this, but they do feel a little cliché. Our human villain wears a white suit and sports an evil moustache, while seeming to enjoy hopping down trees and plotting to murder “tree-huggers” for no reason beyond the fact that he’s the bad guy. There’s no real mention of why he likes cutting down trees and destroying the environment, in a way that might underscore for younger viewers that de-forestation doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

The reunion with Jewel’s family feels like it should probably have a little bit more weight than it does. There is something distinctly uncomfortable about the way that the movie connects back to issues of racial identity. This subtext is reinforced by some awkward wordplay. When Jewel’s father calls him a “pet”, Blu is outraged, treating it as a racial slur. “He used the p-word!” he protests. “To my face!” Some of Blu’s friends suggest that Blu does need to get back in touch with his roots – he needs “emancipation from domestication.”

It's a jungle out there...

It’s a jungle out there…

These feel rather awkward in context. Connecting Blu’s return to his original habitat to issues of cultural and racial identity is a questionable choice – it’s an analogy that really needs a bit more development. It sits uncomfortably with the repeated suggestion that there is a “right” way for Blu to live, and that his city life-style is somehow “unbirdly” and offensive to the way that a Spix’s macaw meant to live. It’s never pushed to the point where it becomes truly problematic, but it is constantly bubbling away in the background.

Still, these are more nitpicks that problems. Rio 2 moves along relatively fast. It delivers the requisite gags and musical numbers. The design on the film is endearingly bright and cheerful – emphasising a colour palette that captures the beauty of that region of the planet. Rio 2 is not the strongest family film of the year so far, but it’s perfectly passable entertainment.

4 Responses

  1. can`t wait to see it.

  2. Reblogged this on moviesutra.

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