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'Rio 2' director talks sequels, samba and soccer as bird tale heads to Amazon

Director Carlos Saldanha poses in a Toronto hotel room as he promotes his new movie "Rio 2" on Thursday April 10, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – “Rio 2” director Carlos Saldanha admits the timing is pretty good for the second instalment of his samba-fuelled film franchise.

With the World Cup headed to his homeland Brazil this June and the Olympic Games set to take over the city of Rio de Janeiro in 2016, all that attention can only help stir up interest in Saldanha’s animated take on his vibrant homeland.

Feathered friends including the cerulean macaw named Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and his sweetheart Jewel (Anne Hathaway) return to the big screen with three kids and rambunctious buddies Nico (Jamie Foxx) and Pedro (Will.i.Am) in tow.

This time around, the gang is headed deep into the Amazon, where they are followed by the villainous Nigel (Jemaine Clement) and his new frog sidekick Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), to discover a whole flock of hidden macaws including the suave Roberto (Bruno Mars).

In advance of the film’s release Friday, The Canadian Press sat down with Saldanha to discuss sequels, samba and soccer fever.

CP: The timing for the release of “Rio 2” seems great given all the events heading to Brazil these days. Did you consciously plan for the film to be ready to take advantage of all the global attention?

Carlos Saldanha: I wanted to be out of the way! I was trying to make sure that the movie came out before those events because the idea of “Rio” happened way before Rio became (home to the) World Cup and Olympics. … Everything also just happened to happen at the same time so it was a coincidence, hopefully a happy coincidence. But I’m glad that we’re coming out with the movie before the whole thing starts because nobody wants to see the movie if they are watching soccer games.

CP: Do you see yourself as a bit of an ambassador for Brazil?

CS: I love sharing it with people because I find it so interesting and different. I love travelling and I love going to different places and I love when people come to my place, come to my home. … It was a way for me just to continue that through a movie and through a story that I love and through characters that are enjoyable to watch and that you care for, through elements of the culture that I love, like music. And it’s hard to detach Brazil from those elements so it’s fun to come up with a movie that can do that.

CP: It seems like music plays a bigger role in this instalment.

CS: I learned so much from the first one that when I started the second one I started to think about music on Day 1. I started to work with (music producer) Sergio Mendes, (composer) John Powell … and started to plot out musical elements early on. I think the second one is more integrated with music and the music is more connected to the story than just isolated set pieces and I think that makes the movie feel even more musical.

CP: And it seems very Brazilian this time around.

CS: In the first movie I was … trying to be true to Rio sounds, which is samba. We were doing Carnival so I was in a way trapped into that microcosm of Carnival and samba and rhythms that people probably are more familiar with, if you know Brazilian music. And this time since we went out in the country I also went out with music — I did a musical journey that takes you from the samba Carnival spirit of Rio to more regional rhythms and exploring different groups. We brought people from Brazil (including) Barbatuques, which is a great band from Sao Paulo that does body percussion — so all the sounds in the Amazon, all the middle set pieces done with those sounds … is all body stuff, it was incredible.

CP: The story in “Rio” was centred on bird poachers and the budding love affair between Blu and Jewel. This film seems to take a broader look at family and the environment.

CS: The second one, now they (are) in love, they have children now, it’s about the future — what’s the future for them? The future for them only exists if they have a place to stay and if they have more of their kind and that’s the story. After the discovery that there are more birds in the Amazon they go to the Amazon to find out where they are. When they get there, not only do they find Jewel’s family, which creates a fun little conflict for the second act, but also they face the problem of their homes being about to be destroyed by deforestation … That side of it was a fun element of the story because you carry two great messages: One is about family unity, the importance of family, sticking together, and the other is about protecting the environment, which is something that I think hopefully kids can walk away dancing, but thinking about.

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