Parents dragged to the movies by wee ones know the sensation well: going off to some mental "happy place" (or not-so-happy place of "stuff I gotta do" lists) while a CGI-animated kid flick plays out unabated on the big screen. It's even money that most post-pubescents will have that mind-drift sensation sometime deep into the samba-saturated sequel "Rio 2."
The 2011 adventure "Rio" was pretty generic to begin with, and the follow-up doesn't fly far from the nest. Neurotic Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), his blinkered wife Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their brood of youngsters have settled comfortably into the domesticity of the Blu Bird Sanctuary in Rio de Janeiro. But when their benefactors TĂșlio (Rodrigo Santoro) and Linda (Leslie Mann) discover evidence that Blu's family may not be the only macaws of their kind in existence, it's back to the wild blue yonder of the Amazon in search of a flock hiding out in the depths of the rainforest.
Turns out that flock does exist, and includes Jewel's father Eduardo (Andy Garcia, well cast) and aunt (Rita Moreno). Urban-outfitted Blu now faces the hard sell of "the ways of the jungle," a lifestyle quickly embraced by the wife and kids. Repeating the (condescending) mantra "Happy wife, happy life," and fretting in the face of tough Eduardo and preening Roberto (Bruno Mars), Blu tries hard to tamp down a fresh inferiority complex and get with the program.
Busying up the plot are the complications of evil, encroaching clear-cutters and flightless cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement of musical duo Flight of the Conchords), the latter back to get revenge on Blu. As if that weren't enough, birdbrains Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (Will i Am) are making preparations for "the Carnival show," necessitating a series of amusing call-of-the-wild auditions.
In story terms, it's all pretty much boilerplate at best and unpleasant at worst: Blu gets lectured and punished for his selfish but also legitimate feelings of hesitancy about upheaving his city life (and isn't this picture called "Rio 2," after all?). That might be great for our compassion toward Blu, but it inadvertently turns his wife and kids into jerks who are never called out for their own insensitivities.
Perhaps better to focus on the colorful, advanced 3D spectacle -- of which there is plenty, including a game of midair fĂștbol -- and the saving graces of musical comedy. Clement again gets a big number (though a disappointing parody version of "I Will Survive"), but the MVP award of "Rio 2" goes to Kristin Chenoweth as poisonous tree frog Gabi. Beside being arguably the most amusingly animated character, Gabi delivers a vocally virtuosic amorous aria, "Poisonous Love," that is the picture's hands-down highlight.
Maybe instead of "Rio 3," Gabi and Nigel should get their own spinoff, as the rest here -- for all its visual and musical liveliness -- resembles an early remark from that canary Nico: "I'm not inspired."