Why the hell anyone thinks kids would be interested in the marital happiness of a bird boy is beyond me. But this is what passes for a children's movie these days: a 1950s sitcom story drawn in pretty, tropical CGI colors with a few mostly forgettable songs tossed in.
Nerd bird Blu (the voice of Jesse Eisenberg) was happy when last we saw him, at the end of the stridently mediocre Rio, and clearly that could not stand. So here, in the oh-so-creatively entitled Rio 2, his relationship with Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the only other blue macaw left in the world, is challenged when they take a "family vacation" from the rare-bird sanctuary they live at in Rio de Janeiro with their three hatchlings and travel deep into the Amazon.
Oh! But Blu's sitcom-ish trials are many, and tedious, and nothing you haven't seen a hundred times before. He is a civilized city bird who does not travel without his GPS and his toothbrush, and there's bugs and stuff in the jungle — yuck.
And what's this? Blu and Jewel stumble upon a lost tribe of blue macaws, which includes her father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia) ... which means, of course, that he is Blu's father-in-law, which means that Blu will be subject to a barrage of abuse about how Blu is not a suitable mate for Eduardo's daughter.
As required by the Traditional Sitcom Rules, there will also be perceived competition for Jewel's affections in the form of Roberto (Bruno Mars), studly and manly, who grew up with Jewel. (Bizarrely, Jewel's sitcom-wacky Aunt Mimi, voiced by Rita Moreno, disappears almost as soon as she is introduced. Returning screenwriters Don Rhymer and Carlos Saldanha, the latter of whom also is returning as director, have fallen down on the job.)
Also as required by the Traditional Sitcom Rules, Jewel must be unwaveringly faithful and devoted to her dork of a husband, and Blu must do everything he possibly can, including denying his own needs and desires, to keep his "hot" wife. By the time Blu muttered, "A happy wife is a happy life" for the third — or was it the fourth? — time, I thought, "Stop being such a damn doormat." Is this a lesson we want little boys to learn? Ugh. (See? Conventional, conservative values are no better for boys and men than they are for girls and women.)
The villainous Nigel the cockatoo (the marvelous Jemaine Clement) returns as well, and he is the most sympathetic character here. As we are reintroduced to him, he is being held captive by a human and forced to do tricks for tourists to earn the human money. His destructive escape is a happy bit of vengeance. The best bit in the whole flick is the wonderfully demented sequence in which Nigel's sidekick, poisonous frog Gabi (the glorious Kristin Chenoweth), sings of her tragic love for Nigel ... tragic because the toxin her skin exudes means she can never touch him.
Human villains pop up, too: greedy loggers clear-cutting the forest. The birds fight back. If Rio 2 gets kids interested in ecology and conservation, I can hold my nose and let the rest of it slide. But why should I have to? The tiniest application of effort could have given us a story that doesn't feel like a reject from Everybody Loves Raymond or The King of Queens. Won't someone think of the children?