Can 'Rio 2' Follow in 'Frozen's Footsteps With Janelle Monae, Bruno Mars, Ester Dean?

As the soundtrack market heats up, another animated movie arrives with a companion album.

 

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When "Rio" was released in 2011, the soundtrack market was less than promising -- the animated feature grossed $143.6 million, though the will.i.am-helmed soundtrack sold only 148,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. But since then, audiences have begun buying movie music -- the "Pitch Perfect" soundtrack has sold 1 million, and the "Frozen" soundtrack has sold 1.4 million, returning to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 for the week ending March 16.

"Kids' movies at some point looked over, and it's a real playing field now," says Fox Music executive VP Danielle Diego, who provided in-house music supervision on Rio 2. "It's a different world now."

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"Rio 2" was conceived as a musical from the start, with songs contributing to the story. Janelle Monae, recruited by writer-director Carlos Saldanha two years ago, provides the film's epic opening number, the sweeping "What Is Love?" that accompanies a party in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval. And unlike the first film, music -- and specifically the Monae track -- is driving the prerelease marketing of the film and providing distributor 20th Century Fox with an element unavailable on the first go-round.

Atlantic released the Monae track on March 11, nearly three weeks ahead of the film's release. The label populated the Internet with lyric videos, tied "Where Is Love?" to third-party promotions like an Angry Birds Rio 2 game and banked on Monae's appearances on Fox's "American Idol," NBC's "Today", BET's "106th & Park" and at the premiere in Miami to drive interest.

"We really encourage [Fox] to use music from the film with third parties," says Kevin Weaver, president of film and television music at Atlantic Records Group. "Normally we would charge additional fees for [advertising] uses, but I have tried to bend over backward to extend that opportunity to the studio and their partners at little or no additional cost."

Songs from "Rio 2" were created the same way as for "Rio." Music executive producers Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown met with Saldanha in the studio of composer John Powell to write songs based on Saldanha's script. As the film progresses and the Blue Macaws make their way into the Amazon, the music's rhythms increasingly become tribal and rooted in the folk music of northern Brazil. "We wanted to show the diversity of Brazilian music," says Mendes.

Bruno Mars, Ester Dean, B.o.B and Kristin Chenoweth all appear on the Rio 2 soundtrack. Those involved say the key was to not force artists to adapt to Brazilian styles but to stay true to their own musical identities. The Dean-B.o.B pop-rap track, "Rio Rio," has been discussed for promotion once the film opens or near its DVD window.

"This is almost a traditional musical," says Weaver. "Many of the characters perform on camera. I think there is definitely more of an appetite for animated films that are music-heavy and are very good. Everyone should keep an eye on them.

"Will this be Frozen? No. Do I think we're going to do fine? Absolutely."