Blu and Jewel, the charismatic stars of the massive hit, RIO, voiced by Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg, return for another terrifically rousing 3D adventure, in RIO 2.
From the award winning Blue Sky Studios, the animated adventure finds the two Blue Spix Macaws living with their children in the city. The domesticated Blu is happy in Rio, but Jewel longs for the wild. Hearing that there may be others of their species in existence, the rare birds fly to the heart of The Amazon, getting back to nature.
Danger, excitement and surprises await! They discover they are not only birds of this particular feather.Action-packed, with great music and comedy, the family film was directed by Carlos Saldanha. The stellar cast includes Kristin Chenoweth, Bruno Mars, Rodrigo Santoro, Andy Garcia, Jamie Foxx and will.i.am.
ACCLAIMED BRAZILIAN FILMMAKER CARLOS SALDANHA TAKES US BACK TO HIS HOMELAND FOR ANOTHER CHARMING AND DELIGHTFUL ADVENTURE
Surrounded by acres of beautiful woodland, Blue Sky Studios in Connecticut is responsible for some of the biggest family hits in recent film history: from the hugely popular Ice Age franchise to Horton Hears A Who, Epic and Rio. Set in Rio de Janeiro, RIO was a love letter from director Carlos Saldanha, to the city where he was born and raised. The film earned a phenomenal $485 million worldwide. Three years later, the light, breezy, open plan offices of Blue Sky are once again buzzing and pulsating with a vivid and dazzlingly colorful Brazilian vibe, as Saldanha returns to his roots and conjures up the vibrant world of the Amazon jungle in Rio 2.
Computer screens are filled with beautiful birds, exotic jungle creatures and lush green plants. The enthusiasm and excitement of the artists and animators is palpable. Saldanha’s talented team are working long hours, putting the final touches to the movie, which again centers on those Blue Spix Macaws, Jewel (Oscar winning actress Anne Hathaway) and Blu (Oscar nominated Jesse Eisenberg) who are now living happily in Rio, with their three kids. It's a life that suits the thoroughly domesticated Blu, who only discovered he could actually fly in the first film. He enjoys nothing more than human comforts: TV, iPhones and pancakes for breakfast. Jewel's heart lies in the wild though. This beautiful and feisty bird feels that Blu and the kids are becoming complacent and accustomed to their human comforts. In her mind, birds are meant to be wild and free.
On hearing the news from Blu's human friends, Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) that they may not be the only birds of their kind, Jewel decides that the family should take a trip to the Amazon, search for others of their species, thought to be almost extinct, and learn to live in their natural environment. Less than happy at the prospect of leaving behind his home comforts, Blu agrees and they embark on an expedition to the Brazilian rainforest.
Hurtled into the wilds, full of lush foliage, strange animals, dazzling flowers, Brazil nut trees, butterflies, and of course fabulous birds, the adventurers discover an entire flock of Blue Spix Macaws in a wonderful rainforest sanctuary. Incredibly, Jewel is reunited with her dad, Eduardo, voiced by Oscar nominated actor Andy Garcia, her Aunt Mimi, played by Rita Moreno and her childhood pal, the charismatic and overachieving Roberto (Grammy award-winning musician and producer Bruno Mars) who happens to be a great singer! While Jewel and the kids are thrilled, Blu feels like an outsider. Threatened by the charming Roberto, he is intimidated by his father in law, as Eduardo does not approve of Blu's city/human ways. Blu is worried he may lose the love of his life, and the kids in the jungle. All he wants to do is get everyone back to Rio as fast as possible.
'Blu has gone from being a domesticated city bird to being back in his natural environment,' says animation supervisor, Jim Bresnahan. 'The stakes of going wild have been raised and he has a whole new set of obstacles to face. He will always be a domesticated bird at heart, but he has to deal with the wild. Jewel also has a conflict: Does she do what Blu wants? Or does she follow her heart, which is in the wild, even though she knows Blu isn't comfortable there? That's the conflict we explore in the movie. It's more wild, and it's fun.'
'Blu is concerned about raising the kids in this environment, because it is Jewel's side of the family, and he is not part of it,' adds Carlos Saldanha. 'So he asks: how is that going to work out? He had thought he had it all under control, under his wings, but now he has to fight for his family and living in the wild is not his idea of home.'
To complicate matters, there is trouble looming in the form of the deliciously villainous Nigel the cockatoo, who lost his feathers and was defeated by Blu and humiliated in Rio. Nigel, voiced by Jemaine Clement, has a complex about his looks and is jealous of “pretty birds”. This time he is out for revenge, spouting Shakespeare and plotting Blu’s downfall, aided by his sidekick, Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), a cute, pink, poisonous frog. Gabi is madly in love with Nigel and will do anything to help him carry out his evil scheme. Meanwhile the future of the birds home is under threat.
There is a powerful musical element to the film. Blu's pals Nico (Oscar winner Jamie Foxx), Rafael (George Lopez), Pedro (The Black Eyed Peas front man will.i.am.) and Luiz (Tracy Morgan) decide to join the family in the Amazon to look for exciting new musical acts for Carnaval, a spectacular extravaganza they are planning: 'Amazon Untamed.' Award winning film composer John Powell, who wrote the score for Rio, returns for the sequel, so does Brazilian music legend Sergio Mendes, serving as executive music producer. Janelle Monae also has a rousing opening song, “What Is Love.”
Like Rio, the sequel is infused with warmth, charm and great characters. The animation is breathtaking, sweeping us into the lush jungle. “I love this film,” says lighting supervisor, Jeeyun Sung Chisholm. 'The voice acting is wonderful and in every sequence there is something to laugh about. It's action packed, but it's different from anything else we've done.
Part of the magic of Rio 2 lies in the look of the film and the upbeat atmosphere,” says Sung Chisholm. 'Rio was so colorful and pretty with wonderful characters, there were lots of reds and greens and blues. RIO 2 is just as festive, but we've added a neon pink color for Gabi the frog, who has a crush on Nigel.'
Gabi, agree the animators, is one of the most appealing new characters, even if she is evil and poisonous! 'Kristin has the greatest voice ever for that character, she is very exuberant, so we have to find ways of expressing that exuberance in this tiny little persona, in the physicality of the frog,” says Jim Bresnahan. 'The animators had to make sure that she stands out and is imposing, but still looks like a frog, with slimy skin, bulbous fingers and a big mouth, because that's what is funny.'
'One of my favorite moments to animate was a sequence where the birds are playing 'air soccer', adds Jim Bresnahan, 'the birds’ version of a soccer match. Coming up with choreography for that action sequence has been great. The macaws of the jungle are playing and Blu, who loves soccer, is trying to get into the game. They don't want him. And he is the last guy picked.'
The Blue Sky team has spent almost three years making Rio 2. 'It's like building a cathedral,' says Bresnahan about the process, in which only a few seconds of animation are completed each week. 'Carlos has a story in his head and we are helping him to tell it. It is always a revelation to see the whole movie at the end. It is amazing to see it all come together, how the characters come alive.”
'It is not like shooting a live-action movie; I have to dissect everything every step of the way, from the script, to the leaf on a tree and the colors,' says Carlos Saldanha. 'It's like a puzzle. The time frame is fairly long and we are still rushing all the way to the end. Every day is a marathon. But it's wonderful. And it's fun.'
Born and raised in Rio de Janeiro, Carlos Saldanha has been one of the principal creative forces at Blue Sky Studios since 1993. Saldanha teamed up with Blue Sky co-founder Chris Wedge to co-direct Blue Sky's first animated features; the Oscar nominated Ice Age, and Robots. In 2002 Saldanha directed the animated short film Gone Nutty. He directed Ice Age: The Meltdown and Ice Age: Age of the Dinosaurs, which became one of biggest grossing animated films of all time. In 2011, Saldanha created and directed RIO, which became a massive worldwide hit.
The director sat down at Blue Sky Studios to discuss the film.
Q: Why did you decide to set the film in the Amazon?
A: “I didn’t want to repeat myself. That is why I decided to go for a place that’s very far from Rio, and in a way, very foreign, even to Brazilians. Amazingly enough, the Amazon is not very well known by our own people, so it's a mystery for Brazilians as much as it is for everyone else. I was born in Brazil; I go back all the time, but I had never been to the Amazon, until I decided to make a movie about it. I went there and I was amazed by how different it was from my perception. It's unique.”
Q: What is the starting point of RIO 2?
A: “The story is a continuation of the first one, RIO, but it’s been expanded, so now Blu and Jewel have a family and they have to decide, based on their individual personalities, the best way to deal with the kids. Blu is more domesticated; Jewel is more wild. When they find that there are more of their species out in the Amazon, they have a family meeting, and they decide to go on a journey to find out if there really are more birds like them. It is a family trip. When they get there, to their surprise they discover there are other birds of their kind, who happen to be family. It is her family though, not his and that creates the conflict between the two of them.”
Q: How does Blu face these challenges, including the fact that Jewel’s father isn't exactly enamored with him?
A: “Because of the rejection by Jewel's father, he has to work extra hard to try to fit in. So the story is all about Blu coming back to reclaim his family and by doing so, he becomes part of the bigger family. In essence that's the main drive of the story. Parallel to that, there are stories that feed into the main story. Nigel is going after him for revenge for example.”
Q: What is it about Anne Hathaway and Jesse Eisenberg that make them so well suited to these characters?
A: “Anne and Jesse are gems and have been wonderful throughout this whole process. Blu would not be Blu without Jesse. That was one of the hardest casting decisions we had to make originally with the first film, because I couldn't find the perfect voice, the perfect attitude or the perfect personality for Blu. But when Jesse came to his first session with us, we knew instantly that he was Blu. It was some kind of magic that happened. He'd start talking and I would see Blu through his voice. He's so smart, so professional and dedicated that he made the character come to life. And his collaboration through the process was incredible. The first movie was about discovering and working together. Now he has a template, so when he came in for RIO 2, he was totally engaged and he continued to be outstanding. He also had new challenges, because Blu is a little different as he tries to become more proactive in trying to get his family back. In a way, he becomes a bit of an action hero. Jesse really puts his heart and soul into the character.”
Q: What about Anne Hathaway?
A: “The same thing applies to Anne. She's so professional. She's in love with the character and she completely embodies the character. She asks questions and contributes, which I love. She will say, 'as a mother, I would be angry right now.' Or she will say: 'I need to be more understanding in this moment.' She understands the character, and she was thrilled about Jewel's evolution.”
Q: Can you talk about Nigel’s (Jemaine Clement) role in the film?
A: “I always wanted to do more with him in the first movie, I always felt that Nigel was super endearing and super interesting, but I didn't have enough time in the story. So when I began thinking about the sequel, we started to plan ahead for him to have a bigger role. I love villains. They are strong or funny, and in our case, I think they add to the story quite a bit.”
Q: Can you explain a little about the casting process with the supporting roles?
A: “Every time we start to develop the characters, we create a profile for them, so we try to discover their personality. We work with a casting director in LA, and we brainstorm a lot. We grab voices from their previous movies or interviews that they've done and we get audio clips, so we can put the voice against the character, and we see which one matches. For example, with Eduardo (Andy Garcia), I had to pit him against Blu and Jewel and see which voice worked with each character, so it's a long process. It's very meticulous, because we need to make sure that the movie feels right.”
Q: How important is the musical dimension of the film?
A: “It is central and about the same as the last one, with the same number of musical set pieces. We wanted to look at different musical flavors, sounds and exciting new beats. I think the music is more integrated into the plot line than in the first one and we have a lot more original music.”
Q: Why did you decide to make a sequel?
A: “I have done a lot of sequels, going all the way back to ICE AGE When I did the first ICE AGE a decade ago, we had no idea we would do a second one. The movie ended up being a huge success, and we had to say to ourselves: 'okay people want more, so let’s tell another story.' We had to really work hard on that sequel and it took a long time to get there, because we were caught off guard. After that, we learned our lesson (laughs). We understood that if the audience likes the story and characters and wants to see more, you have think early on about how to continue the story. Not that you plan a sequel, when I make a movie, I just want to work on the one I am doing. RIO was a success of course, everybody liked it and once it came out, we took a break. But I was already starting to think about a second film, although nothing was set in stone until they said, 'let's find a way to do a sequel.' But by that time, it wasn't a surprise and it just came naturally. We knew that there were kids in the new story and we continued to think about their adventure and the future of the birds and what we could do with them.”
Q: What is the secret of a strong sequel?
A: “The rule is that you only have a sequel if your first one is successful and it's always good to go into a sequel knowing that you love the characters. But the tough side of it is that I always create a movie to be unique. With a film like RIO you have large shoes to fill, so the pressure is on. But it's fun.”
Q: Your films all have wonderful energy. You always seem so enthusiastic – never jaded. How do you keep your films fresh?
A: “Hard work (laughs), it doesn't come easily, I have to say. It's not an easy task. Sometimes you have an idea and you trust your gut instinct, and you're like, 'okay guys. This is a good idea. This is going to be fun.' And then you get everybody involved and it blossoms into something unique but sometimes we get stuck. We are always finding a way to follow our instincts and follow our heart. That is the toughest part of my job, because sometimes my gut instinct gets diluted by a lot of information. Therefore, you have to make sure that you're always focused. Sometimes you make mistakes. Sometimes you hit it right, perfectly.”
Q: How much is it about trusting your team and staying open?
A: “You have to keep your channels open and filter through all the ideas. I think the success of these movies lies in the fact that it’s a collaborative effort with a lot of amazing minds. I would love to say that I did everything, but it’s not the case. You look at the drawings from our artists, or the sculptures or the animation and you get completely blown away. If somebody comes in with a better idea than I had, it’s like, ‘you’re in.’ That idea is in the movie.”
Q: Was it challenging animating the Amazon?
A: “It was challenging because the Amazon is vast. I studied different clusters and combined them into our fictitious Amazon. I created my own Amazon. If you’ve been there you will recognize the color of the water, the animals and some of the trees. We got a cluster of maybe five or six different trees from the Amazon, and tried to build them. So we created a forest.”
Q: Is there an environmental theme in the story?
A: “There is a warning about the environment. The Amazon, like a lot of ecosystems around the world is suffering, so the story is about protecting the home of the birds. The overall concern is that now they have found more birds, how are we to protect them? Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) were the ones protecting the birds in RIO. They continue to protect the birds, but on a bigger scale. The main story centers on the birds and how they interact with the new family, but there are the external perils as well.”
Q: When you make a movie, do you have a good idea which characters will win the hearts of the audience? Or are there sometimes surprises?
A: “When you start making a movie, you never know which will be the break out characters, the stars of the movie. That happened to us with Scrat (the saber toothed squirrel in ICE AGE.) We didn’t know that Scrat was going to be a superstar. Scrat doesn’t diminish the central ICE AGE characters, Manny, Sid and Diego. And I think same thing is true here. If Nigel and Gabi eventually become superstars, that will be great. But I don't think they would take the place of Blu and Jewel. I have to say Nigel is super funny in this film (laughs).”
Q: Do you have a favorite scene, anything that really stands out?
A: “I love the moment that Jewel is reintroduced to her family. There's a nice musical number that is quite special and very vibrant that we call 'The Reunion Moment.' It is hard to say which are favorites though, because it's like your children, you love them all equally.”
Q: What tone do you go for in a family film like this?
A: “We set out to create a movie we enjoy. If you walk around the animation department, you see that our animators almost live in a little playground with their toys. They all have their sandbox. Even though the main target audience is kids, it is for parents too. I have kids and when I take them to movies, I want to enjoy them as well. I want to be entertained. I hope I have created a movie that parents will enjoy as much as kids. At Blue Sky we are kids at heart, so we create a movie for ourselves.”