Rio2Blue Sky Studios’ Rio 2 is the sequel to the 2011 Academy Award and Annie nominated hit, Rio. In the original, an endangered Spix Macaw from Minnesota named Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) goes on an adventure in Rio de Janeiro. He battles poachers, falls in love with a spunky Macaw named Jewel (Anne Hathaway), and makes friends with Nico, a Yellow Canary (Jamie Foxx), Pedro, a Red-crested Cardinal (will.i.am) and Rafael, a Toco Tucan (George Loepz). Blu also makes a life long enemy in a menacing Cockatoo named Nigel, hilariously portrayed by Jemaine Clement.

Rio 2 finds Blu and Jewel comfortably raising a family on an estate owned by Blu’s former owner, Linda (Leslie Mann) and her ornithologist husband, Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro). While Blu enjoys the luxuries of the human world, Jewel wishes for her three young children to experience a little of the wild.

During an expedition in the Amazon, Linda and Tulio discover another Spix Macaw and believe that they may have located a flock of the endangered birds. When Jewel learns this, she insists that she, Blu and the kids fly down to the Amazon to help find the birds. With Nico, Pedro and Toco en tow, the whole gang heads off to the rainforest. Not only do they find the flock of Macaws, they meet Jewel’s long lost father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), and one of her old crushes, Roberto (a very funny Bruno Mars).

Fans of Nigel need not worry. The crazy Cockatoo makes his way to the Amazon seeking revenge on Blu for the events from the first film. Accompanying Nigel is a hyper, lovable poison dart frog named Gabi (Kristen Chenoweth), whose love for the bird can never be realized because if she touches him he’ll die.

All of this takes place while an illegal logging team is cutting down rainforest trees and placing all of the characters’ lives in danger.

Rio 2 is a worthy follow up to its predecessor. It’s full of humor, rich colors, has a brilliant, lively score by John Powell, and contains performances that are sincere and full of heart. Upon it’s home video release by 20th Century Fox, I had the opportunity to discuss Rio 2 with the film’s director, Carlos Saldanha, who also directed the first Rio, as well as Ice Age (co-director), Robots (co-director), Ice Age: The Meltdown, and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Popdose: At what point did the planning of Rio 2 begin? Did you have ideas before Rio opened?

Carlos Saldanha: In my head, it’s hard to think about anything else besides the project at hand. Even though it takes 3-4 years to make these films, it’s such a tight schedule that you’re just thinking “this is the movie I’m making.” With the success of Rio in the theaters and later on DVD, we readily started to Rio 2think about where we could take the next adventure. And that’s how it all started for me for Rio 2. It’s a fun problem; you create these characters that people fall in love with, and you want to tell more stories about them, to create new characters and new things on the second one that you either weren’t able to do in the first, or you’re free to do something different because you already have a knowledge of the characters you created. It’s really a fun process.

Popdose: How soon into production did you know that you had Bruno, Andy and Kristin on board and how did their casting help to shape the look and animation of their characters?

Saldanha: Well, casting is key, and once you have a character in your head, finding the perfect voice and the perfect actor for it is the key to the character’s success. You have an idea of the character in your head and when you bring the voice in that matches and they deliver what you need, it becomes such an inspired process, not only for the story, but for the animators and all whom are involved with the evolution of the project.

Andy and Kristin were my first choices for the characters I had envisioned. When they said, “Yes,” it was like, “Wow, a dream come true!” And sure enough, when they started to record their voices, they blessed their roles beyond my expectations. It was so exciting and rewarding to hear the characters come to life.

In the case of Bruno Mars, Roberto was a character I was struggling with, “Who was going to be the perfect voice?” I didn’t want it to be something that felt common. I wanted it to be unique and different, something that hadn’t been done before. I saw Bruno hosting Saturday Night Live and I thought, ‘‘This guy is funny. I love that he can sing, and I wonder if he’s interested in acting?” When we talked to him, he was so excited about the idea. Roberto was a character that we built together. We tried to make him this very funny character based on our interaction and our work together. It was a super collaborative effort to make it happen.

Each character is different, but these three were key to the creation of Rio 2 in terms of fresh blood mixed in with the characters we already love.

Popdose: Speaking of characters we already love, Nigel’s rap in “I Will Survive, ” is one of the high points of the movie for me. When you have someone like Jemaine who is a songwriter, does he have free reign when it comes to something like that? Do you tell him, “We have this song, go write something.” Is it that collaborative? I’m curious how that works out because obviously you have a script, but that rap seems tailor made for him.

Saldanha: Jemaine’s talent to improvise and create and be funny, I want it all! He’s so perfect for what we need and beyond what we need. We knew that we wanted to do a parody and new interpretation of “I Will Survive” and when I told him that, Jemaine was really excited. Then he went off for a couple of days with a writer we have that he likes to collaborate with, Yoni Brenner, and the two of them sat down and jammed. Actually, the song is much longer; we had to cut it down for the length of the movie. We had so many funny raps, that it was hard to pick the best one.

Popdose: In terms of animation, going into the second movie, were you able do things in this film that you weren’t able to achieve on the first one?

Saldanha: In these projects, technology is key, and it’s always evolving. Going into Rio 2, the technology was already more advanced than when we started the first one. Even though we already have all of the characters from the first movie, we have to re-prepare them for the second one. So we started almost from scratch in terms of the controls for their bodies for animators to perform, to allow them to be faster, to allow them to have more characters in a scene, because this movie was bigger, as well. Sometimes the advancements are invisible. Sometimes it’s the amount of control we are able to add to the characters’ performance to allow the animator to have better facial expressions or body movements.

Also, because this one takes place in the Amazon, I wanted the jungle to feel “right.” I wanted the lighting and the textures to feel good, and to be a beautiful backdrop for the story. In the case of Gaby the frog, I wanted her to have a gummy bear quality, so we developed a special technique just to get that look.

Popdose: In this film, like its predecessor, the music is so essential and is so unique. Can you describe your working relationship with John Powell?

Saldanha: I’ve been working with John for many years on many movies, and when we did the first Rio, we both were trying to figure out the songs. Of course, we had Sergio Mendes as a major contributor and producer to the process. So the three of us really jammed and figured out what was the perfect vibe. When it came to the second one, we already had that second-hand communication from working together for a long time, and we knew more about the rhythms we wanted to explore. And because we took the movie beyond Rio, we had more freedom to explore new rhythms, new artists.

But we started early. We learned from the first movie that movie music is so essential, and from day one we started to write music. John Powell is a genius, and I was so happy… honored, that he provided such unique music. We worked really hard from day one to the last day because we wanted to make sure we explored unique new sounds, and that’s part of the fun.

My relationship with John, he’s like a brother to me. We’re so connected; he knows my style. He’s such a smart, clever, musician and so talented. When you combine a lot of talented people, and they all get along and they all understand and respect each other’s process, it becomes really positive and pleasurable. I think that’s what I wanted, that in order to make this movie, we had to have fun at it. I don’t believe you have to struggle that much. If you’re not having fun I think it shows. This is all about joy. This is all about making great music, great sounds, and we have to love what we make. We worked hard, it wasn’t easy, but we enjoyed everything we did. We have such a great relationship that allows us to have fun making it and love the end result.

Popdose: Unlike so many of the recent family moves, Rio 2 carries a G rating. Was that a conscious decision to get that rating?

Saldanha: I didn’t want to alienate anybody. A lot of people who saw the first Rio were young and I didn’t want to move away from that, I wanted to make a project that was inclusive, from five to sixty. I wanted everybody to enjoy the party. I’m happy that it’s G because it allows everyone to see it.

Popdose: The movie has a strong environmental message, was that important to you going into this one since the film was going to take place in the Amazon?

Saldanha: Yeah, for sure. The first Rio had astrong environmental message, as well, with the extinction of the birds,. And there are two main things that cause their extinction: one is poaching and trafficking, and the other one is the destruction of their homes. So, when I went into Rio 2, I wanted to tackle the second cause, the destruction of the birds’ homes. Because I wanted to take the characters to the Amazon, that all became part of the core story idea that I had. That allowed me to create drama and the conflict for the backdrop of their story. It also allowed me to put a little bit of a flavor of an environmental message into the film, especially for the younger audiences. It’s not hitting you on the head too much, but it’s there. So, with the curiosity that kids have, it allows people to understand a little bit. Of course, it’s not a documentary, but at least if people see it, they’ll feel a connection and get the message and hopefully that will allow them to learn more about it.

Rio 2 is available now in the following formats: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet combo pack; Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy + UltraViolet combo pack; and DVD.