By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The big screen is again celebrating Brazil and its varied and diverse culture as “Rio 2,” the follow up to 2011’s hit 3D animated film “Rio,” is in theaters worldwide. Directed by the Rio born and raised Carlos Saldanha, the film is drawing audiences around the globe with its memorable cast of characters, lively soundtrack and vivid depictions of the country.
Lead characters, the blue spix macaws Blu and Jewel have returned for the sequel. Voiced by actors Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway respectively, the pair in Rio 2, set several years after the first film, are now a family with three children.
The film opens with a sequence depicting Rio’s famous Réveillon (New Year’s Eve party) on Copacabana Beach but the plot soon leaves the marvelous city to journey into the Brazilian Amazon.
“I wanted to take people to a place that felt different, and that’s when I thought about the Amazon,” Saldanha told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “And also, I really wanted the story to carry more weight in terms of a bigger message, a message of protecting the environment.”
A father of four himself, Saldanha traveled with his wife and children to the Amazon to experience the lush trees and abundant wildlife firsthand, before directing the film. “For me, it was a personal experience of going in, with my family, to try to feel like Blu going to the Amazon,” said Saldanha, who had stated earlier; “I always had an amazing curiosity about [the Amazon]. I’m from Brazil and I grew up there, but I never had a chance to go, it felt so far away […]”
Blu and Jewel’s trip begins when they learn their humans friends, Linda and Tulio (voiced by actors Leslie Mann and Rodrigo Santoro respectively), may have discovered more of their species while on expedition in the Amazon.
Friends from the first film including; Rafael, Nico and Pedro (voiced by George Lopez, Jamie Foxx and will.i.am respectively), decide to join in the adventures.
Once the group arrives, the audience meets a new cast of characters including Jewel’s childhood friend, Roberto, voiced by singer Bruno Mars and Eduardo, Jewel’s father voiced by Andy Garcia.
Actor Jemaine Clement also returns as the voice of villainous Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Nigel while actress Kristin Chenoweth provides the voice of Nigel’s new sidekick, a poison pink dart frog named Gabi.
A subplot also involves illegal loggers kidnapping Linda and Tulio during their fight against the deforestation of the Amazon. When asked if the plot was a statement against logging practices in the region, Saldanha told the press; “Yes, it’s a denouncement, a moment to reflect and think a bit about the future.”
He adds, “Nature is one of the most important things to us [and] the planet’s current state isn’t very good. I think for the sake of the children’s future — my children’s futures, their children, my children’s children — we have to start to change, to preserve [the environment] more, it’s a very important awareness.”
Saldanh began his career by studying computer animation at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, New York, United States. In 1993, after receiving a Master’s degree in Computer Art, he went on to work for Blue Sky Studios. There in 2002 he co-directed the animated feature film “Ice Age”.
Saldanha then went on to co-direct 2005’s “Robots,” and made his solo directing debut in 2006 with “Ice Age 2: The Meltdown.” In 2011, “Rio” was released and went on to gross an estimated US$484 million worldwide.
Rio 2 premiered in Brazil first on March 27th, then in the UK on April 4th and finally was released worldwide on April 11th. In the United States, it earned US$39,327,869 on opening weekend. As of Monday, April 20th the film has earned a little over US$275 million worldwide.