Part of what made “Rio” such a creative and commercial success was how much it bore the personal stamp of its director, Carlos Saldanha. The Brazilian-born animator poured all his great affection for the city, its culture, and its Carnival vibrancy into the movie, and it showed. His colorful avian characters couldn’t have had a better backdrop for helping them pop, narratively and visually. Need a scene with Jesse Eisenberg’s nervous-nellie macaw, Blu, learning to fly? Send him panoramically floating around the statue of Christ the Redeemer. Need the requisite catchy musical sequence? Set it to a samba beat.
“Rio 2” feels less personal, and more like a case of Saldanha’s team working hard – too hard – to concoct a tropical blend with an equally pleasing kick. In shipping their cartoon flock 2000 miles away, to the Amazon, the filmmakers have created a back-to-nature story line which, ironically, just doesn’t have the same organic quality. It’s fun in stretches, but also busily forced. (The move from exotic to exotic-adjacent recalls “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa.”)