'Rio 2' Director Carlos Saldanha Talks Responsibility Of Showing Brazilian Culture To The World [EXCLUSIVE]

Carlos Saldanha
"Rio" and "Rio 2" Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha attends a screening of his sequel in Miami. Courtesy Photo

Brazilian director Carlos Saldanha has worked in animated films with Blue Sky Studios for many years. He has an impressive resume as he was the director of “IceAge: The Meltdown” (2006) and “Ice Age: Dawn Of Dinosaurs” (2009) and co-director of “Ice Age” (2002) and “Robots” (2005). Though, no project has been closer to his heart than the film about two blue macaws that fall in love, “Rio” (2011), set in his hometown of Rio de Janeiro.  After the great success of the first film, Saldanha -- along with Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox Animation -- is taking us back to Brazil for the sequel, “Rio 2,” which is set to hit theaters Friday.

The beloved blue macaws, Blu (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), return to the screen in this beautifully 3D computer-animated musical adventure-comedy. Blu and Jewel embark on a journey out of Rio de Janeiro to the Amazon rainforest in search of a hidden tribe of blue macaws. This is an important journey for the now family of five -- the couple have three kids -- because they’ve always believed they were the only blue macaws left in the world. The family joyfully discovers Jewel’s old tribe and long-lost father, Eduardo (Andy Garcia), as well as Jewel’s childhood friend Eduardo (Bruno Mars), but Blu has some trouble fitting in. Along the way, the hilarious villain from the first film, the cockatoo Nigel (Jermaine Clement), and his side-kick, the frog Gabby (Kristin Chenoweth), try to carry out their revenge on Blu, while illegal loggers kidnap scientists Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro) and threaten to destroy the home of the blu macaws.

Saldanha made sure Brazilian culture and music played a big role in this sequel, as well. Some Portuguese words can occasionally be heard in the film and there is fierce soccer game, reminiscent of the impending FIFA 2014 World Cup, between two species of birds in the Amazon. The director also brought in the sounds of the Barbatuques, Brazilian body percussionists. Brazilian musician Sergio Mendes’ work on the film’s music played a large role in “keeping it world,” as Saldanha put it. Latin Times got a chance to speak with Saldanha about the importance of this film to him personally, as well as some of the Latino voices he got to work with -- whom he calls his “heroes” -- Andy Garcia and Rita Moreno. Check out the interview below.

Latin Times: When did you decide to make a sequel of “Rio” and why was it important to you to do?

Carlos Saldanha: I felt that I had more stories to tell. When I finished the first movie, I got those two birds together and it was the story of the birds falling in love. In the second one, I wanted to talk about their family. I wanted to talk about their future. So it felt natural that there was a continuation to the story that I began tell in the first one.

LT: What are some reoccurring themes in “Rio 2” from the first film? And what are some new ones?

CS: The movie is completely different and new. Of course, you start the movie in Rio because that’s where we left off from the first movie. But then from there, they go into this great adventure to the Amazon. We meet a lot of new characters and all the musical numbers are different. It was very exciting to explore the different rhythms of Brazil because the first movie was pretty much Rio-centric. It was all about the rhythms of Rio with samba, with Carnival, with Bossa nova. With this one, I take the journey to a much bigger place. I take the journey across Brazil to the Amazon. So, musically, we had a lot of freedom for new rhythms and new set pieces that we weren’t able to do in the first one. It’s a completely new movie. If you haven’t seen the first one, you’ll still get the second one. And it’s a bigger story. It’s about family and the family dynamic with the kids, and the family that they find in the Amazon.

Rio 2 "Rio 2" is set to hit theaters Friday. Twitter/@RioMovie

LT: Can you tell me a bit about the casting process, especially the Latino voices? How do you decide someone’s voice is a good fit for one of your characters?

CS: I want the voices to carry the personality or, more, the energy of the characters that I’m creating. In the case of “Rio 2,” I had the great honor of working with some of my heroes, with some of the people who I’ve always looked up to like Andy Garcia, Rita Moreno. Those are such icons of movies. Not only just because they are Latinos but mostly because of their body of work, the amazing work they’ve done so far, and how important they’ve become for the movie community in general. So, it was such a great honor and also because they had the personality that I was looking for. When we cast these characters, we look at the quality of their voices and how they contrast with the other characters and also the ability to act and add the right energy to the characters.

LT: I’ve heard you mention before you wanted the music in this film to be a character of its own. How did you go about bringing that to life?

CS: It was a fun process. I learned a lot from the first movie, musically speaking, about our process and what we needed to do to make it really happen. We learned that we had to start early. We learned that we have to start to integrate the music as much as we can with the story. So, when we started “Rio 2,” the first day I was already working with music. I called Sergio Mendes back in. I called Carlinhos Brown and John Powell, the composer. We teamed up as soon as we could, and we started to write the songs. And this time around, I was much more careful to try to fit the songs even better to the story, so it feels more fluid, more organic. We had to have enough time to develop all the different styles of music we wanted to put into the movie.

LT: Did you plan to have “Rio 2” come out near the World Cup?

CS: No, usually the movies that we make, they take about three years to make. As soon as we got the OK to make “Rio 2,” it naturally fell to this date that we wanted to release. It happens to be the year of the World Cup. But with or without the World Cup, the movie would come out because the way the timeline works for us. “Rio” was in my head way, way before any events were approved to be made in Brazil. So it was an approach completely detached from Brazil or any events happening in Brazil. It was much more of a personal journey that I wanted to put on the screen. One thing that I wanted to make sure didn’t happen was to have it come out during the World Cup because then no one would come see it. Everyone would be glued to their TVs for the soccer games! I wanted to make sure that if it did come out this year, it would be before the world cup. Luckily, it worked out.

LT: How do you feel about having the opportunity to depict Brazilian culture to a world audience?

CS: I’m very happy and very proud that I was able to do that. I’ve been working with animated movies for the longest time and I’ve seen movies being made about different cultures. I’m so close to the Brazilian culture that I always questioned myself: Why not develop a project that talks a little bit about that culture? And that’s when “Rio” came to life. It’s such a great honor to be able to do that, not only for Brazil, but for the world. What I hope is that Brazilians see a little bit of themselves in the movie and they are proud of what I do. And at the same time, the world that doesn’t know about Brazil, gets to see a little bit about it or at least have the curiosity to learn a bit about it.

LT: The animation in this film seemed beautiful and authentic. What challenges did you face in animating the Amazon?

CS: I wanted to take the audience to a different place, so the Amazon was, for me, the image of the unknown, something unexplored. And I thought it was a great challenge for animation, especially to build the jungle and the scale that I wanted to build. I knew it would be a big technical challenge for me. It also allowed the animators to have more freedom and excitement to work with different characters from the jungle, not only birds. It was a fun exploration of a new world. We did a lot in Rio in the first movie and I wanted this one to feel different.

We went to the Amazon. It was a lot of fun. It was incredible. It was way more than I expected it to be in terms of the scale, the beauty, the colors, the vibrancy of the place and excitement of being there. It’s such an untamed place and so filled with life that you can’t help but be inspired. I was very inspired by that. I shot a lot of reference for the writers to look at in terms of the characters and the way the jungle moves and the way that things are visually. So it was an amazing experience.

Rio 2 "Rio 2" is set to hit theaters Friday. Facebook/Rio

LT: Do you have a favorite character in the film?

CS: It’s hard. I enjoy all the characters that we’ve put in and that’s the reason I’ve put them in the movies because one complements the other. I do feel that in the new one, “Rio 2,” we did a great job coming up with the character of Gabby, the little frog, which is a really fun character that I fell in love with, as well. But they’re all very special in their own way.

Oh, I love Nigel. He was a great villain in the first one, and he had to come back. The voice of Jermaine, his comedy and his music … that was the first thing I thought for the second movie. Nigel is back, and I want to give him more. I wanted to create a bigger story for him and that’s how I created Gabby, to create a fun little parallel story for him. I think that he’s a showstopper.

LT: Was it harder to create the sequel than the original?

CS: With the first one, it was the challenge of creating something that was never done before. It was the challenge, the responsibility, of trying to create a film that talks about specific culture to play for the world. So, there’s all these challenges of the first creation. With the second one, you start off a bit more relaxed because you know the characters, you know the culture, you know the world you’re going into but you have the bigger challenge of creating something unique on top of that to lift the success of the first one. You want to do something that will at least match the excitement of the first one or try to surpass it. There’s a lot of inherit pressures that go in to making a sequel that make the process challenging, but also gives it excitement. And challenges are good in that sense that it pushes us to keep creating new things.

LT: Can we expect a “Rio 3”?

CS: Well … I don’t know. [Laughs] For “Rio,” I was so focused on making the first one that I didn’t even think about the second one. But the minute that they said yes, I was ready for it. I felt that I had more to tell. And I still have more stories to tell. The question will be to see how it does and how people accept it. And then we go from there. Right now I’m so wrapped up in trying to promote the second one and just trying to get this one out the door, but we’ll see. Maybe in a month or two I’ll have a better answer for that one!

What do you think?
Michaela Christensen

Michaela Christensen is an Editor for Latin Times. She joined IBT Media in January of 2013. Michaela studied journalism at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, N.H., and has worked for newspapers in New England and upstate New York. Michaela is a grammar czar and amateur photographer who cares a lot about immigration reform and racial justice.