This is merely director Carlos Saldanha’s sometimes sluggish windup. Blu, Jewel, family and friends — Nico (Jamie Foxx), Pedro (will.i.am), Rafael (George Lopez) and Luiz (Tracy Morgan) — may be heading to the Amazon, but Yoni Brenner’s script is heading in a dozen different directions.
To the Rio waterfront, for one, where the pompous Nigel (Jemaine Clement) is quoting Shakespeare, decrying the carnival sideshow he’s chained to and deflecting the unwanted attention of his terribly annoying, terribly adoring fan, Gabi. Kristin Chenoweth is the irresistible voice of the poisonous frog and stands as one of the film’s best new additions.
Some of “Rio 2’s” cleverest hijinks occur as Gabi and a tap-dancing anteater named Charlie, who uses his tongue not for talking but for several super sight gags, set Nigel free and follow him to the jungle so he can settle a grudge with Blu.
Then it’s off to tour the director’s favorite regional attractions. At least this detour across Brazil is made visually interesting with a temporary shift to a paper cutout animation style so that the screen occasionally looks like a pop-up book brought to life.
Things improve significantly when all the parties finally arrive in the Amazon, truly an animation paradise of possibilities from the dense undergrowth to the exotic creatures.
Throughout the film, Blu is in the pressure cooker, with Eisenberg improving as the temperature rises. No one turns it up higher than Eduardo (Andy Garcia), the father-in-law the nerdy bird’s just met. The crusty old leader of the Amazon River’s hidden macaw tribe isn’t exactly impressed with his son-in-law, or his son-in-law’s fanny pack. There will be tests.
A major one is Roberto (Bruno Mars), Jewel’s old flame. Thanks to Mars, Roberto’s a smooth operator, flirty and funny — and that voice. If there is a “Rio 3,” sigh, let’s at least lobby to have Roberto and Gabi, the lovely Broadway frog, take over.