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Rio 2 by John Powell (Review)

posted Apr 9, 2014, 10:50 PM by Kaya Savas

Rio 2 is quite a momentous event for film score fans as we get to hear the return of the great John Powell who has been on a bit of a hiatus. Powell decided to take a break from film scoring to spend more time with his family and even now is selective about what he returns back to work for. Luckily for us he decided to come back and continue his amazing work from Rio with Rio 2. The Rio films are a bit unique in that the songs and score truly work hand in hand. Powell continues his collaboration with musical icon Sergio Mendes who is the Executive Music Producer on the films as well as a writer behind some of the songs. Rio 2 continues in that tradition of blurring the narrative seams between score and song to come up with one festive quilt of music. 

When you dive into Rio 2’s score you will immediately be brought back into that wonderfully lush soundscape that Powell built for Rio. You’ll recognize some familiar themes including the “Real In Rio” motif that was heavily used in the first film. However this time the music does a great job of not relying on old material and instead brilliantly demotes the themes of the first film to the second tier. They are still an integral part of the score’s structure, but Powell isn’t rehashing them to form a new score. The big central theme for Rio 2 is a wonderfully lush and soothing motif that represents the return back home for the character for Jewel. It represents the Amazon rainforest that the new story takes place as the setting moves from the streets of Rio and into the jungle. Powell infuses wonder and awe in equal measure with the right execution that sends those chills down your spine. I even felt a little bit of Americana in that tune that has a faint hint of a John Barry/Dances With Wolves feel, but it works so well here as the film’s new central motif. Powell then weaves some of the old motifs all perfectly structured to craft a wonderfully emotional narrative full of his stylistic percussion that fits so well. A lot of the musical talent involved in the songs are also featured musicians for the score including Carlinhos Brown, UAKTI, Barbatuques and Milton Nascimento. The score is a truly wonderful continuation and is Powell operating at the top of his form.

Now, when it comes to the songs of Rio we have to jump to a separate album release. On the back you’ll notice that John Powell and Sergio Mendes are the credited Executive Album Producers as Mendes leads the way to provide us with some stunning Brazilian tunes. The songs that operate in the movie as part of the narrative, be it diegetic or non diegetic are the highlight. These are songs that are sung by the characters for musical numbers or songs that act as transition or emotional bookends. They all function as part of the musical quilt built by Sergio Mendes and John Powell. Powell uses the tunes in his score with the musicians, and Mendes has Powell arrange some of the songs to make them sound part of the Rio universe. Powell is also credited as a co-writer on some of the songs as well. So this was truly a big collaborative experience that resulted in two albums that truly compliment each other. You shouldn’t own just one and not the other.

Rio 2 is a vivid and magical musical journey. Powell and Mendes have taken the music out of Rio and into other Brazilian styles other than the Rio Carnival sounds we heard in the first film. The score is a more than welcome return to form for John Powell who will be heard again in a few months with How To Train Your Dragon 2. The wonderful celebration of life can be heard in the songs and a truly great narrative is built with Powell’s score. Rio 2 is a bright and vivid explosion of sounds that is hard to resist. Be sure to experience both albums together for the complete musical journey.