Like its peppy predecessor, Rio 2 doesn't look or sound like other animated licenses to print money. That alone is reason enough to appreciate it.
Brazil is a long way rhythmically from Broadway urges Disney can't let go, and the Amazon rain forest is a magical kingdom of another kind, in colors and critters. Smartly crafted for overseas success in soccer-and-samba cultures, the Rio franchise offers fresh sensations even when the story's cluttered.
Rio 2 begins with Blu, the blue Spix's macaw (voice of Jesse Eisenberg), settled into sanctuary life with Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their three kids. Too settled for Jewel's instinct, especially after a flock of their rare species is discovered in the Amazon. She wants to assist the search, taking their children back to their roots, but cozy Blu is hesitant.
The flock is led by Jewel's father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), whose brush cut feathers and disdain for Blu recalls Robert De Niro in the Fockers trilogy. Naturally there's a childhood crush (Bruno Mars), making Blu even more insecure about Jewel's commitment. And this wouldn't be a rain forest movie without a mankind threat thrown in.
That's enough material to propel Rio 2 from one energetic musical set piece to the next. Director and co-writer Carlos Saldanha doesn't agree, adding a turf rivalry between macaws and red parrots, and the return of Nigel (Jemaine Clement), a dastardly cockatoo holding a deadly grudge against Blu.
Choosing any unwieldy subplot to trim from Rio 2 is tough, as they're each so vibrantly rendered. Nigel is a tragically Shakespearean villain, jealous to self-destruction. He's comically mismatched with a toxic frog named Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), whose Poisonous Love ballad is a musical highlight, along with Clement overhauling the cliches of I Will Survive.
Likewise, a subplot involving Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (Will.i.am) producing an Amazon carnival pads the movie, yet amusingly so. The auditions montage alone, in which nature's food chain decides winners, is worth the extra time. Of course, the carnival makes for a bouncy bossa nova climax. It just feels a little overdue.
Preceding the movie is the short Almost Home, starring Steve Martin's wild and crazy guy voice as the alien leader of interplanetary refugees. Their search for a new home sets up a potential franchise that, unlike Rio 2, is an animation idea we're tired of seeing and hearing.
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.