Directed by Carlos Saldanha, the lusciously animated Rio 2 begins with Blu the macaw (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) comfortably navigating a human kitchen and reveling in the joys of domestic life. His three hatchlings have adopted a variety of human traits, ranging from a healthy interest in the natural sciences to a less admirable penchant for wearing an iPod at all times. Blu and the kids appear to be thriving, but the wild-born Jewel (Anne Hathaway) longs for the days when home was inside of a tree and breakfast consisted of a simple Brazil nut. Although the feathered family is functional, albeit untraditional, it's apparent that they might benefit from a bit of counseling.
This, however, is not to be. When Jewel overhears a news report about her former guardian, ornithologist Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), and Blu's onetime human companion, a woman named Linda (Leslie Mann), she is shocked and heartened by the revelation that there may be a flock of blue macaws living in the rain forests of the Amazon. Soon, she decides that her family should leave the relative safety of Rio for a chance at reconnecting with other members of their species. While Blu is less excited by this prospect, he is happy for the opportunity to see Linda again, and packs a number of human accoutrements for the journey (the most notable of which are a fanny pack and a Swiss army knife with a spork attachment).
Although the parrots quickly confirm that the rumors are true and the colony of blue macaws exists -- in fact, the patriarch is none other than Jewel's father (Andy Garcia) -- their victory is short-lived. Not only does Blu have serious problems adjusting to a significantly wilder existence, but a nearby tycoon hopes to raze the land on which the birds have made their home. If that weren't bad enough, the deranged cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) has returned to exact revenge on Blu, this time with the help of a spunky tree frog (Kristin Chenoweth) at his side.
Rio 2 has two major drawbacks: The plot is completely formulaic, with none of the tension or sentimentality of similar animated features, and Eisenberg's Blu becomes so neurotic and stereotypically nebbish that it's difficult to root for him at times. However, there's certainly nothing wrong with a well-told tale of the good versus the greedy, especially when it has an underlying message about the importance of forest conservation. On this count, Rio 2 delivers. The pace is neither too slow nor too frantic, and the frequent musical interludes are fun, colorful, and delivered with clear enthusiasm from the actors who lent their voices to this film (particularly crooner Bruno Mars as a lothario of a blue macaw named Roberto). Clement, Tracy Morgan, will.i.am, and Jamie Foxx reprise their roles from the first movie without missing a beat, and newcomers Garcia, Chenoweth, and Amy Heidemann (playing a sloth who delivers staccato, aggressive rap verses) fit in seamlessly.
While Rio 2 is a far cry from Frozen (2013), Brave (2012), and other winners in the cutthroat world of animated features for children, it would be right at home in the middle of the pack. There's no shame in that, and the combination of consistently whimsical music and dialogue and a subtle message in favor of environmental conservation will make Rio 2 a worthy edition to any family-friendly film collection.