Carlos Saldanha went deep into the Amazon for 'Rio 2'

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:42 PM ET

All differences aside, Rio 2 director Carlos Saldanha’s native Brazil has one thing in common with the U.S. and Canada. The countries are so huge, most people living in them have never really seen them.

The Rio de Janeiro-born Saldanha was in his comfort zone with the animated musical Rio, about two rare blue macaws who find their way from America to an animal shelter in Rio (with the help of a posse of hip-hoppin’ animal friends).

But when the plot for the sequel came together – with city-bird Blue (Jesse Eisenberg), his jungle-born mate Jewel (Anne Hathaway) and their brood seeking a flock of their own in the Amazon rainforest, one thing bothered Saldanha.

He had never been to the Amazon.

“For me, the Amazon was so far away,” says Saldanha (Ice Age). “From Rio to the Amazon is four hours by plane. When I was a kid I loved Jacques Cousteau, and he went to the Amazon with his boat, the Calypso.

“So I decided I could not make a movie about the Amazon and not have been there. I wanted to go through Blue’s journey, the city boy in the rain forest. And it was a blast, it was way more than I expected,” says Saldanha, who brought his four children, ages 4-16, along for the visit.

“One time we were in this boat and the forest was flooded from the rainy season. So it’s kind of pathways through the jungle. And the guys stopped and said, ‘Let’s fish for piranha.’ And it was crazy, you put a little piece of meat, you pulled them up, look at them and throw them back.

“Then we went about 100 metres away from that, and there was this outpost where the dolphins would come. They were beautiful, pink and exquisite. And the guys said, ‘Let’s go into the water.’ And I was like, ‘Are you kidding me? We were just fishing for piranha over there!’ They said, ‘They’re not going to attack you, it’s fine.’

“It was a projection of my fears. My kids went in. And the water’s so inviting, I went in. But I didn’t relax for a second.”

Despite the change of scenery, the basic chemistry of Rio 2 remains the same.

“When I pitched the first movie, what I told the presidents of Fox was, ‘I want to make a movie about Brazil.’ And what comes into my head is music and fun and colour.”

The music is overseen by a Brazilian legend, executive music director Sergio Mendes, who used his influence on the likes of will.i.am and Bruno Mars to participate. “If you look at the legacy of Sergio Mendes, he’s worked with everybody from Frank Sinatra to Pharrell Williams. When we started Rio, thinking about the singers who could contribute to the process, he knew everybody. It was, ‘Hey, will? You want to come work on this?’

“The record he’s doing now, he’s working with John Legend. He works with everybody. I’ve never yet to been to a place with him where he didn’t know somebody.

“On these movies, he’s, like, my safety net. I talk to him about music, how I see the movie evolving emotionally. We talk about Brazilian music. We talk about styles, and it’s interesting, because even the ones that sound contemporary come from a strong Brazilian foundation.”

Twitter: @jimslotek

Jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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