What I love about animation is its capacity for creating things that you did not realise could exist. Even in the days of just about every "live" action movie with any kind of budget behind it half existing in computers full of invented locations, something about the medium of animation purchases the right to go deeper into unreality and totally new worlds to evoke brand new experiences for the viewer. For example, here's something that just happened to me: even with my fervently dim view of Blue Sky Studios, the animation company for those days when you want all the demerits of DreamWorks without the accomplishment, I wouldn't have assumed that they'd have it in them to bother making Rio, the 2011 kiddie film about bird sex, any worse than it already was. Boy, I sure had my horizons expanded: Rio 2 is a marked decline in every way from an original that really couldn't afford it, painfully dredging up every scrap of the first film to diminished returns and slapping them into something with the shape of a narrative rather than the function of a narrative. In so doing, the result is a film with the awful feeling of being at once overstuffed and totally empty.

There are three almost entirely distinct conflicts going on. The main one is that Blu (Jessie Eisenberg) and Jewel (Anne Hathaway), the pair of rare macaws whose breeding formed the entirety of the last film's dramatic stakes, learn from the television that they and their three children are not the last of their species, but that out in the depths of the Amazon, an entire population of their kind has been discovered, by Linda (Leslie Mann) and Tulio (Rodrigo Santoro), the now-married humans responsible for hooking Blu and Jewel up in the first place. For reasons that even now fade from memory but surely made sense at the time, the bird family leaves their sanctuary in Rio de Janeiro to explore this lost colony, finding that it is in fact Jewel's childhood home, with her dad Eduardo (Andy Garcia) lording over a population of macaws far braver and more capable than the hopelessly urbanised Blue. Particularly the handsome - and god damn, but do birds ever look stupid when you put 2010s human signifiers for "handsome" on their bodies - Roberto (Bruno Mars), a childhood friend of Jewel's.

Yeah, so it's a kids' movie about how a marriage is threatened by the sexual insecurity of the husband. Big deal. The last one was about bird fucking, and that makes it awfully hard not to linger over the thought, in the first 20 minutes, that if they hadn't found the new population of macaws, Blu and Jewel's children would have to interbreed to keep the species alive. I fucking hate this fucking franchise.

The other two plots go a little something like this: Linda and Tulio run afoul of an illegal logging operation run by a nameless thug (Miguel Ferrer), whose facial animation represents some kind of inconceivable low for American big-budget character animation: his lips have no meaningful relationship to the sounds coming out of them, nor to the muscles presumably supporting them. Elsewhere, the angry, insane cockatoo Nigel (Jemaine Clement) left for dead at the end of Rio turns out to be alive and anxious for vengeance against Blue, toting along a lovestruck poison frog, Gabi (Kristin Chenoweth), and a silent comedian anteater. All of these stories ultimately converge, but the marital drama is the only one that actually matters whatsoever, and coupled with the film's general aura of "goddammit, we will fit every character from the last movie into this one", it's clear that Nigel's presence is almost solely a function of Clement's willingness to cash the check the producers offered him (that said, Chenoweth's rendition of the woozy romantic anthem "Poisonous Love" is not merely the film's high point, it might very well be its only good moment).

Much as was true of Rio, the only real justification for any of this is the bright colors used to depict the Amazon fauna: the searing pinks on Gabi's skin, the seemingly limitless variety of blues used in the macaw tribe, a few key splashes of red and yellow to keep things lively. There are a few indifferent, stylistically generic musical numbers that try to showcase this element using sprawling Busby Berkeley-like choreography, though in this respect the film's nowhere near as successful as its predecessor; it doesn't help that the big showstopper is mostly limited to green and blue, and only a couple of remotely interesting ideas for what to do with movement.

Everything else is achingly mediocre, at best: the need to invent a whole bunch of new character designs for largely similar birds starts to get ridiculous before very long, and only the anteater, out of the whole cast, is animated with any kind of playfulness or freedom. The entire vocal cast sounds hugely bored, other than Chenoweth (and really, what might a bored Chenoweth sound like anyway?), though with the rote situations and dialogue they're asked to play, it's hard to say that we can blame them.

And it can't be overstated: the story really just isn't. Conflict upon conflict upon ginned-up conflict that anyone older than the most undemanding and innocent of children can predict from hours in advance, and too many nominal threats that take place in some entirely different arena than anything involving the protagonists, all stuffed together in a lazy action sequence near the end that plays the old "if we can survive violence together, all of the problems that have not been meaningfully addressed will up and vanish" card. It's bad enough to throw this sort of trite nonsense at kids and pretend like it's harmless normally, but when the primary story is about the tensions of a couple of parents and the ageless threat of hostile in-laws, one really has to wonder who on Earth is supposed to get any remote measure of enjoyment out of any of this. Warmed over fake rap and shiny plastic colors notwithstanding, this is a profoundly dreary domestic drama disguised as a kids' adventure film, and as complete a waste of time as I can imagine a cartoon being.