Friday, April 25, 2014

Rio 2 [2014]

MPAA (G)  CNS/USCCB (A-I)  ChicagoTribune (2 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (4 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
ChicagoTribune (M. Phillips) review (S. Wloszczyna) review
AVClub (K. McFarland) review

Rio 2 [2014] (directed by Carlos Saldanha, characters and story by Carlos Saldanha along with Don Rhymer screenplay by Jenny Bicks, Yoni Brenner and Carlos Koktin) surprised me in a good way, through truth be told, I should not have been surprised.  After al,l the director Carlos Saldanha is orignally from Brazil and so would be expected to make a even a kids' film several orders of magnitude more respectful and enlightening of his country of origin's culture than Hollywood films for the big (Grand Budapest Hotel [2013]) and small (Muppets Most Wanted [2014]) made by film-makers with at best a "reader's" or "tourist's" appreciation of the cultures that they were portraying (and frankly making fun of...). 

I held off on viewing and reviewing this film because it came out theaters here in Chicago on the very same weekend as the annual Chicago Latino Film Festival featuring dozens of excellent films made by Latino film makers about their own cultures and national histories (I still have a couple of films that I saw at the festival to review here).  I did not want to confuse authentically Latin American / Latino films made by authentically Latin American / Latino film makers with a Latino-based film coming from Hollywood, but seeing it now, I kinda regret that ... ;-) because Carlos Saldanha honestly did a great job here (and he is in fact, from Brazil ;-).

However, talking for a moment  to adults and not really here to kids -- yes I realize that Rio 2 [2014] was a kids film ;-) -- we live in a globalized time in which for the very small "annoyance" of watching films with subtitles we can (if we choose to) see films at festivals like Chicago's annual European Union, Latino and Black Diaspora Film Festivals about different places in the world, made by film makers from those places in the world.  These kind of festivals take place NOT JUST in larger cities like Chicago but ALL OVER THE UNITED STATES. One just has to look for them: Just Google "Film Festival" and the state or major city that you live in or near and you'll be surprised how many of these festivals play ANNUALLY near you.  The films playing these international film festivals, which are held all over the country and indeed across the world, are made by film-makers from all over the world.  And far more often than not, they are far more intelligent than the one-two-or-even-three-step removed productions made by "far away from the subject matter" Hollywood.  Yes, one will run into propaganda pieces, but (1) one runs into domestically made propaganda pieces as well (consider said Muppets Most Wanted [2014] mentioned above as well as Hop [2011] and Hoodwinked 2 [2011] among even domestically made KIDS' FILMS), and (2) many/most foreign films playing at these festivals are personalist human dramas about what it's like to live in "fill in the blank" country made by a film-maker ACTUALLY FROM THAT COUNTRY.   So ADULTS (and again, not really kids) for the price of "putting up with subtitles" for $10-12 one can get in 2 hours a better perspective into what it's like to live in "fill in the blank" country, the country's history, what the country's proud of, etc, than one could get spending THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS on taking "a tour" there.  That's not to say that tours and MISSION EXPERIENCES are bad.  But international film festivals ARE A LOT CHEAPER ...

Muito bem (very good) ... back to the film at hand ;-).  Rio [2011] and now Rio 2 [2014] is that rare Hollywood children's animated film franchise that's made by a director who's actually originally from the country in which the films are set.  And honestly both films become WONDERFUL AMBASSADORS TO VIEWERS with regard to Brazil and its culture.

THE CURRENT FILM'S VERY FIRST SEQUENCE links the flamboyance of the world-famous carnival celebrations in Rio de Janeiro with the flamboyantly colorful BIRDS and other wildlife of Brazil.  The people dancing in the streets and on floats parading through the streets -- the people often dressed in elaborate and colorful feathers -- are juxtaposed with the film's lovable and colorful BIRDS DANCING AND SINGING (chirping) AWAY AS WELL.  Wow!  What a GREAT WAY to explain the uniqueness of Brazil's carnival celebrations as compared to the ways it's celebrated (always flamboyantly, but ever differently) across the globe and in a way that even a kid could understand:  Brazilians often dress for Carnevale in flamboyant dress often accented by feathers BECAUSE THEIR OWN BIRDS ARE DRESSED THAT WAY.  And they sing and they dance JUST LIKE THE BIRDS OF THEIR LAND DO.  Again, even a 6 year old could understand that ;-)

Then the fundamental story in the Rio franchise about the relationships between Birds (to a large extent conflated WITH BRAZILIANS) and various people (often enough but not always WESTERNERS / NORTHERNERS, that is "non Brazilians").  And to the franchise's credit, the franchise shows IN BOTH FILMS that there are both "good and bad Birds" (again often linked to Brazilians) and "good and bad People" (again often linked to Westerners/Northerners that is, non-Brazilians).

So Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenstein) is a rare Brazilian Blue Macaw who in the first film actually spent much of his life "up North" (in the United States) among humans and even at the beginning of this film remains quite at home among people perhaps even more so that with birds.  Indeed, he and his wife Jewel (voiced by Anne Hatheway) actually were introduced to each other as a result of intervention of humans: In the first movie Tulio (voiced by Rodrigo Santoro) a Brazilian ornitologist (one who studies birds) came all the way up to the United States to find the very rare Blu (to bring back for Jewel then thought to be only other "Blue Macaw" left in the whole world).  Dr. Tulio finds Blu happily residing in snowy North America (as the first film notes "NOT Brazil" ;-) with Linda (voiced by Leslie Mann) a (North) American pet-shop owner.  Not only does Dr. Tulio bring Blu back to Rio (for Jewel) but also Linda because the two "bird geeks" fall in love with each other in the process ;-).  The result is that both Bird and Human, and South American and North American, are shown to being able to get along and indeed help each other.

In this second film, we find that Tulio and Linda go out into the Amazon (to look for rare birds) and THERE discover (on basis of a feather) that there _may be_ other Blue Macaws living out there somewhere deep in the Amazon.  That news sends Blu and Jewel and their family out to the Amazon as well: Blu's not particularly happy as one who's lived all his life around the comforts of the city, he'd prefer to stay home, while Jewel, more comfortable with the ways of birds would like to go out and see if they could find "more of their kin").  Much ensues ...

Among that which ensues is that Blu / Jewel (and their other feathered friends) DO FIND the "lost flock of Blue Macaws" that Tulio and Linda were looking for (and actually help the two humans find the flock as well ... ;-) and, we find that at the head of this flock of Blue Macaws is ... Jewel's father, the rather stern and very "pro-bird chauvinistic" Eduardo (voiced by Andy Garcia), who for a while dismisses Blu as "a pet" for being too "lost in the jungle" and way too favorable of people ("I can't believe he used to the p-word" poor Blu complains at one point).

Well, of course, _that_ attitude will have to change and by the end of the film even Eduardo comes to recognize that while there are evil people out there (like a foreman of a logging enterprise that just wants to cut down all the trees around where they live), there are also good ones (like the hapless if kind Tulio and Linda) AND THAT IT'S A GOOD THING THAT PEOPLE (err BIRDS ;-) like BLU EXIST, who can form bridges between Birds and People (between "us" and "them") rather than just "stay with one's own kind." ;-)

And the film also features Evil Birds.  Nigel (voiced by Jemaine Clement) who had been something of a "king pin" of a "bird gang" running out of a Rio de Janeiro "favela" in the first movie, makes an appearance again as a sinister bird out to just cause trouble among the other birds as well.

All this plays out with some very authentic Brazilian and Amazonian imagery and motifs:  I've actually been several times to the my religious order's (the Servites) Mission in the Acre.  So I can attest to the authenticity of the boats and Amazonian towns portrayed in the film.  Then one of the truly inspired _gems_ of this film portrays the Blue Macaws and their Red Parrot neighbors settling a dispute. How?  With "a war."  But what do they mean by "a war"?  A "bird soccer match" with a Brazilian chestnut serving as the soccer ball ;-).

So folks this is a very nice movie with some very very nice messaging to young kids: (1) The Other need not be your enemy, and indeed could become your friend, (2) Indeed can all enrich each other just like all those tropical birds enrich the life and culture of Brazil, and (3) DISPUTES NEED NOT BE SETTLED WITH GUNS ... WHY NOT A BALL GAME OR TWO INSTEAD ;-).

And that's honestly NOT A BAD MESSAGE FOR CHICAGO (my hometown and where I'm currently stationed as well), plagued in recently by a vicious wave of gang violence, AS WELL.

So parabens (congratulations) Carlos Saldanha parabens!


I mentioned above that I had gone (led a group from the United States) out to the Servite Mission in Acre, Brazil deep in the Amazon some years back.  I was also the principal translator into English of a book published (in Portuguese) for free by the Servites about the Amazon.  It was called The Amazonia We Do Not Know.  The English translation, worth the read, is available here

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