Thursday, September 11, 2014

Three Days of Sequels, Part 3: Rio 2

Oh yes, I'm really going to do this. I'm going to talk about a picture which is unabashedly a family film - a children's film. I saw the 2011 picture Rio on a flight where it was the in-flight entertainment (ie, no channel selection). I was surprised to find the picture wasn't that bad, so three years later I gave Rio 2 a shot. Before I get into it, let's look at some numbers, okay chief?

Rio's Budget: $90 million; Rotten Tomato Rating: 72%; Domestic Box Office: $143,619,809

Rio 2's Budget: $103 million; Rotten Tomato Rating: 47%; Domestic Box Office: $131,536,019

These are interesting figures; on the one hand, Rio 2 didn't cost much more to make nor earn much less than Rio - but boy, the differences in the critical response suggests something went awry.

The first film concerned Blu, a blue macaw whose species is endangered. Raised in Minnesota by his owner Linda, Blu is thoroughly domesticated and mimics humans. When Brazilian ornithologist Tulio learns of Blu, he brings bird and owner to Rio de Janeiro so Blu can mate with Jewel to help preserve their species. However, Blu and Jewel are pursued by rare bird smugglers and matters are complicated by Blu's inability to fly, his unfamiliarity with Rio and reliance on humanoid thinking. By the end of the film, Blu and Jewel have fallen in love, begun a family and moved into the wild. The story's over then, right?

The makers of the sequel (including returning director Carlos Saldanha) essentially tell the same story again only with less flair. The five writers (FIVE?) can think of nothing more to do with the characters they've created than run them through the most obvious scenarios. Now that Blu & Jewel are together, they introduce a rival for Jewel's affections so Blu can act jealous (though this rivalry exists primarily in Blu's head - Jewel doesn't have agency in this picture). Now that Blu is able to fly, instead his human-like habits are played up so that he ventures into the Amazon with a fanny pack full of human devices. Blu is so human-like and awkward amongst birds that if anyone who hadn't seen the original came to the conclusion Blu must be a human who was turned into a bird, I would understand their confusion.

There is a minor change to the cast as Blu & Jewel now have three children; their respective stock character types are: The Smart One; The Cynical One; and The Token Boy. Blu's friends Rafael, Nico & Pedro are shoehorned into the story primarily to remind viewers they exist but serve little usefulness to the story. The previous film's villain Nigel also returns in a subplot, now flanked by two lackeys: Gabi, a poisonous frog who is in love with Nigel (okay?) and Charlie, a silent anteater. The humans Linda & Tulio also return but in a diminished capacity; although they're the characters who first stumble upon the villains of the picture (an evil logging company) they do little more than cameo in the film.

When I think back on some of the pictures I grew up on (ie, the Dark Crystal or the Black Hole) I get the impression filmmakers of children's pictures had only a rough idea of how to approach younger audiences. The makers of Rio 2, by contrast, are working within a factory-assembled formula. It's not going to hurt kids - it will probably amuse them - but it's lacking in ambition. Do I expect too much from a film whose cast of characters includes "rapping sloth?"

In the film's climactic showdown, our outsider hero has found it difficult to obtain acceptance from his mate's father and their people. However, the outsider proves an adept leader as he guides his fellow blue people in a successful battle against the evil humans whose machines have been decimating their rainforest home and by doing so, the outsider is fully embraced by the others. Wait, that sounds familiar. What film am I thinking of? Shoot.

Unlike the previous two entries on this blog, Rio 2 doesn't indulge in xenophobia, going so far as to include a (very) minute amount of Portuguese (minute enough that I understood it all) and showcasing Brazil in such a way that both films have probably left some kids wishing to visit the country. Compared against Muppets Most Wanted's message of "Europeans are lame," that's not too bad.

Thank you for indulging me as I sift through my thoughts on these - hey, wait a minute, I got it! I know what film I was thinking of! Dances With Wolves, right?

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