Though there isn’t a fruit-flavored hue that isn’t jammed into every single corner of screen space in Rio 2, the movie has less actual nutritional value than 10 bowls of crushed Froot Loops dust. 20th Century Fox’s sequel to the already dubious 2011 film would seem far too endlessly hyperventilating and self-stimulating a way to keep kids from barreling toward a spaz attack on a Saturday afternoon. But since the last one was a sizeable hit without having garnered much positive reinforcement from critics (childless or otherwise), the nourishment that comes from a balanced cinematic diet probably won’t be at issue. Still, even parents accustomed to taking a luxurious mental nap at these things will likely note the irony of how emphatically the movie’s nebbish hero, the overly civilized Spix macaw Blu, is taken to task for not enjoying the splendor of nature with his mate, Jewel, and their three children.
Believing themselves to be the only remaining specimens of their kind, the avian clan have been living like kings (or, more to the point, like humans) within their posh nature preserve digs. While they’re been flipping pancakes and creating iPod playlists, though, conservationists Linda and Tulio, who brought Blu and Jewel together in the first film, have been tracking down what appears to be a whole undiscovered colony of Spix macaws deep in the Amazon. A colony that also happens to be perched in a swath of trees a lollipop-addled logger intends to raze. Oh, and in case anyone needed more narrative clutter, that Cockatoo ham Nigel who got sucked into a plane engine in the first film wants to kill Blu as well.
Unlike its predecessor, the busy Rio 2 centralizes Blu only out of obligation, which is an odd and dissatisfying fit for a film that removes the entire identity Blu has constructed for himself as a protected class, fauna’s great exception. The clueless bird is for most of the film entirely unaware of the threat posed by both the shady loggers and the now flightless and grudge-drudging Nigel. And instead of using those thousands of blue-winged brothers and sisters to send its protagonist into a crisis of character, Rio 2 settles for fish-out-of-water yuks aimed at the city-slicker pet bird who can’t go anywhere without his fanny pack. The net effect is a shapeless would-be diversion in which things just happen independently, a string of effects missing any cause.
The solitary benefit is that nothing gets in the way of the fringe benefits. Nigel’s travel companion and literal toady Gabi, a highly poisonous frog, nurses a tragic and biologically improbable crush on her nefarious mentor. As voiced by Kristin Chenoweth, Gabi’s torment at not being able to make physical contact with her regal object of desire emerges in the bathetic 11th-hour “Poisonous Love,” a biting invasion of Boublil-Schönberg territory. And there’s a maniacal sense of humor feeding the montage of jungle talent-show auditions, in which one Amazonian act after another gets devoured by the bigger, meaner talent next in line. One can only hope the same fate falls upon this series, because the only lesson Rio 2 imparts is that birds of a feather suck together.