In 2011, the world fell in love with a little blue macaw named Blu, and helped catapult his animated Brazilian adventure, entitled “Rio,” to a $484 million global box office.
Produced by Blue Sky Studios, the company behind the “Ice Age” franchise, “Rio” followed the rare cerulean bird (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) as he traveled to Rio de Janeiro to meet the last female of his species, a blue macaw named Jewel (Anne Hathaway). After thwarting a band of smugglers and a jealous cockatoo named Nigel (Jemaine Clement), the timid and neurotic Blu finds love with his bold and adventurous mate, and the couple welcomes three baby macaws.
In the new movie “Rio 2,” which is now available to own with XFINITY On Demand, Blu, Jewel and their children are living a comfortable life in the city of Rio. But when the family learns of a long-lost flock of blue macaws living in the Amazon rainforest, Jewel presses her meek mate to search for the birds and give their domesticated offspring a taste of the wild life. The Amazon, however, can be a dangerous place, and while wild creatures lurk around every corner, so does Nigel and his new sidekick, a chatty poisonous dart frog named Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth).
I recently sat down with the director of the “Rio” and “Ice Age” franchises, Carlos Saldanha, and chatted with him about Blu’s new adventure, his own perilous trip to the Amazon and recording with a barefooted Hathaway.
David Onda: In the first “Rio,” it made sense for Blu and Jewel to have baby macaws, but I had wondered if you felt saddled with three baby birds when it came to planning this sequel.
Carlos Saldanha: That’s one case that I wasn’t thinking of a sequel. If I had to change my mind, I would have to explain what happened to those babies. In a way, I was stuck with them. That said, subconsciously, I think the reason why I put the children there was the fact that I wanted to continue to tell their stories. The purpose of the first movie was to give hope for the species. That was the main goal with bringing these two birds together. There’s no future for them or their children if there are no more. The lineage ends right there. When they said they wanted to do a sequel, that’s what I thought about – talk about the future, future for the family, for the kids, find more birds in the Amazon and let the journey be something bigger.
Onda: The “Rio” films deal with many family dynamics. You have the adoptive family, the new romance, the odd couple and the long-lost father. What draws you to these relationships?
Saldanha: It’s interesting, because that’s something I did a lot in the “Ice Age” movies. I was drawn to those movies because of the families, because of those dynamics. In a way, it’s very close to me. I have a huge family back home, I have four children, I grew up with that environment of family dynamics and that’s something that felt always very close to me. It feels natural for me to write stories about families based on my personal life experience.
Onda: For the first “Rio,” you had animators visit a zoo to study animals and fly to Rio to get a feel for the city. Did the crew take additional trips to explore the Amazon for “Rio 2”?
Saldanha: I went. This time around, I didn’t send anybody to the Amazon. I went myself. In the first movie, I brought people to Rio because I had a hard time being the only person to try to convey a culture, a whole culture, to the crew. So I brought them so there could be other ambassadors of the movie I was trying to make. It was a very fulfilling experience. It was a very important thing to do. For the Amazon, I decided just to go myself because I had never been to the Amazon. I wanted to take the personal experience of going there for the first time and take it in, and see how I felt, how I saw it. I wanted to come back with a clean perspective of the Amazon. I grew up in Rio, I know the city up and down, I know everything about it. I was chaperoning [the crew], showing them around. In the Amazon, I didn’t want to be spending time showing them things that I didn’t know. I wanted to be shown around. I went by myself. I went with my family, too. I wanted them to experience it. I wanted to see how it was to be there with them – my fears, my concerns…
Onda: As if you were Blu!
Saldanha: Exactly! I wanted to be Blu going into the Amazon. It’s funny, because sometimes I have a lot of Blu and I have a lot of Jewel. At the same time, I’m a little paranoid, a little bit trying to get everybody together, trying to organize things, I’m very adventurous. I love traveling, I love going to the Amazon and exploring. I have that explorer side of me. But there was a moment that we went out and I was in the boat taking pictures, and the guy took us to fish for piranhas. It was really cool and exciting. And then five minutes later, we go to another place and he goes, “Go into the water. The dolphins will come.” And I was like, “No!” We went to this place and, sure enough, the dolphins started to circle us. So I go gently into the water, just relax, trust the guy. But in my head, I couldn’t stop thinking – I just fished for piranhas right there! And my kids were all into the water. I was terrified.
Onda: Villains in family movies can be tricky, but Nigel is such a great bad guy. What is it that you love about him? Besides his laugh, of course.
Saldanha: It’s my favorite villain. Nigel is a study case for me. I love him. He has the combination of wit, pathos and that deliciousness of villainous. That makes it all come together. And part of it is because of Jemaine. I am a huge fan of Jemaine, especially the time when he did “Flight of the Conchords.” His songs are so funny and witty. That’s how the character came together. I wanted to do a cockatoo, and I said, “It has to be Jemaine Clement. If it’s not him, it’s not Nigel.” And luckily he said yes, because if he said no, I didn’t know where to go. He creates that villain that you care for. They almost route for the villain a little bit more. And that was the fun part of it. And now, in the second one, I think we topped it with Gabi.
Onda: As the director, are you there outside the booth for every recording session?
Saldanha: Yeah, I’m there all the time. And I’m with them. Since we record them in isolation, there are no actors to bounce back. So I become everybody else but the actor. I play Jewel, I play Blu, I play Nigel, I play Gabi, I play whatever. Since we don’t have a stage or a set, they don’t have to put on makeup. We don’t have a crew all around you. It’s a much more intimate process. We have a lot more freedom. Anne Hathaway was in bare feet, jumping up and down, being Jewel, screaming and crying. It’s kind of like a trust room. Nobody’s there, it’s just us, let’s trust ourselves and let it all out.
Onda: Tell me a little bit about the “Rio 2” soundtrack, which is really at the heart of this film. I particularly love the Bruno Mars song “Welcome Back” [see the clip below].
Saldanha: It’s one of those miracle songs. It’s so funny, because we wanted to transform that into a bigger song and [Bruno would] always keep saying, “No, Carlos. It’s that simple. That’s the song.” The soundtrack is quite special in this one. We had more freedom than the first one. The first one was discovery. It was an unknown movie, nobody knew what it was gonna be. The studios didn’t know. It was very centric in Rio, so I tried to stick to the rhythms of Rio – samba, bossa nova, funk. In this one, people were like, “Just go for it!” And I went for it. I tapped into every style of music that I could think of that represents Brazil.
Onda: Is there a single scene in “Rio” that, in your mind, captures the city best?
Saldanha: There’s a shot that I put in both movies where they fly above the city and we have the gazebo on top and you have this great view of the lagoon and the mountains. For me, that represents Rio in one shot. It’s an angle that you get where you see the ocean, you see the lagoon, you see the forest, you see mountain, you see the city. You see all the elements that make the city in one shot.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.