Director Carlos Saldanha's trip to Amazon shaped 'Rio 2'

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Director Carlos Saldanha had only one name on his wish list for the blue macaw Eduardo, the puffy chested patriarch in "Rio 2": Andy Garcia.

"He was my wish list. I didn't have another name. I was kind of hoping and praying he would say yes," Mr. Saldanha said in a recent phone call. "Another one was Aunt Mimi, Rita Moreno. I really wanted to work with her," and she signed on, too.

Mr. Garcia speaks for Eduardo, the father of Jewel (returning voice Anne Hathaway) and unofficial blue macaw king of the Amazon jungle, while Mimi is his warm, sassy sister. Bruno Mars, spotted by the director on "Saturday Night Live," helped to shape the character and serenades of Roberto, Jewel's childhood friend.

Jewel returns to the wild with her domesticated mate, Blu (Jesse Eisenberg), and their three offspring in the sequel that earned $39 million its first weekend in theaters and is available in 2-D and 3-D.

As the co-director or director of "Ice Age," "Ice Age: The Meltdown" and "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," Mr. Saldanha is no stranger to sequels. But the release time between such movies has been compressed, with sequels arriving three or so years after the first and representing the work of 350 to 400 people around the world.

"Nowadays, it's so fast paced, there are so many movies happening per year, that I think the decisions are made fairly fast," he said. "It was right after the first one came out, it came out in theaters around the world and a couple of months later we were already talking about the sequel."

If the first movie was a meet- and mate-cute for Blu and Jewel, "Rio 2" had to be about the family they forged. "What's the future for the family? If they don't find more birds, there's no future for them."

Turns out there are more birds, not in their neck of the woods in Rio but in the Amazon. "I always had an amazing curiosity about it. I'm from Brazil and I grew up there, but I never had a chance to go, it felt so far away and then I ended up moving to the U.S. ...

"I wanted to take people to a place that felt different, and that's when I thought about the Amazon. And also, I really wanted the story to carry more weight in terms of a bigger message, a message of protecting the environment," including the towering trees where the birds live and harvest Brazilian nuts for food.

"I wanted to go broader and bigger, and not just focus on those two birds but give it more of a global feel to the peril of the story." And that meant a field trip to the Amazon.

"For me, it was a personal experience of going in, with my family, to try to feel like Blu going to the Amazon." The filmmaker has four children, 4 to 16 years old, and they brought the preconceptions just like the characters in the movie, that it would be humid or buggy or dangerous.

They found a wonderland where they climbed trees and went into the water with pink dolphins. "It's such an amazing experience that we all felt blessed to be rewarded to be a part of that world."

It was redolent with the perfume of orchids and very dark at the ground level of the jungle because little light penetrates the dense foliage. "Then, when you climb up the trees, all of a sudden you feel like you're in Shangri-La ... almost like a suspended garden."

He wanted to try to capture how lush, layered and colorful -- even when it comes to shades of green -- it is. "I felt I had explored a lot of colors in the first movie. After talking to the art director [and others], they said, we went beyond the palette, we just went in and we did more."

Which leads to the natural question about whether the blue macaws will fly back to theaters for a third time.

"I haven't stopped too much to think about it yet. I know that probably the question will pop some time, but I'm trying to just kind of avoid it. I'm like a little kid with the hands in the ears, going la-la-la-la, I don't want to hear it. ... For now, let's just enjoy this."

Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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