I'd rather just....sing
Sing is Illumination Entertainment's 7th feature film and one of two Illumination films released during 2016, the other being The Secret Life of Pets. Sing is directed by Garth Jennings and stars the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth McFarlane, Scarlett Johannson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, and Tori Kelly.
There's nothing in an animated film that wins people, particularly small children, over like talking animals. But let's not stop there. Now what if all those talking animals can sing? And by sing, I mean they sing over 60 famous songs by a vast pool of artists like Lady Gaga, Elton John, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Stevie Wonder. If there's anything that Sing can boast about, it's that it knows how to appeal to audiences of all ages.
Alongside Zootopia and The Secret Life of Pets, Sing was another 2016 animated film that focused on the lives and doings of a diverse group of animals. Zootopia centered its plot on the physical and emotional characteristics of the many animals that are present, creating an intriguing story of predators vs. prey that also happened to provide an underlying commentary on issues of prejudice and stereotypes. The Secret Life of Pets sort of did a similar thing. It spinned the Toy Story premise into, "What happens with your pets when you're not home?" focusing mostly on the humorous and familiar antics of dogs and cats. Sing, however, does not make a clear effort to emphasize such animal characteristics. Even when it seems to be trying to, it's difficult to realize.
For the plot, let's start with the central figure of the film: a koala bear named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who does not sleep 20 hours a day (your koala bear fun fact of the day). Moon has always had an interest in show business ever since his father took him to a show at a very young age. His father worked countless hours as a car washer to help Moon one day purchase his very own theater. So it seems like Moon is living the dream, but there's one problem: Moon's theater is facing financial trouble, since basically none of his shows have been major hits. This leaves Moon with only one thing to do: hold a singing competition. Moon originally intends to give away a $1000 prize, but his eccentric iguana assistant, Miss Crawley (Garth Jennings), accidentally makes the prize $100,000. This brings auditioning animals in by the dozens, including Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who is mother of 25 piglets, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a teenage gorilla who is pressured into helping his criminal father commit various crimes, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage punk rock porcupine who keeps being put down by her rock music boyfriend even though she is the more talented of the two, and Mike (Seth McFarlane), an arrogant white mouse with a voice like Frank Sinatra. There's also Meena (Tori Kelly), a teenage elephant who has an exquisite voice, but suffers from massive stage fright. Rosita, Johnny, Ash, and Mike are all casted in the singing competition along with a suave pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll). Everyone is excited about being in the singing competition, but what is Buster Moon to do since he doesn't have $100,000 waiting to be given to the winner?
If you really want to enjoy Sing, then you have to accept the fact that it is not a masterpiece of any kind. It just wants to have some fun and provide a little musical joy. There's nothing wrong with that every now and then, and it does keep up with what has been the ongoing standard of Illumination Entertainment that is, "deliver animated films that provide colorful and lighthearted entertainment without any major psychological depth."
- The music and singing are actually quite lovely. Easily the best part of the film is the singing show near the end where all of the animals like Rosita, Gunter, Johnny, Mike, and Meena all get to show off their talents to a large crowd. It gets so hard to not want to eventually sing and dance along, and I'm not one who is particularly fond of movie musicals. The film also does a good job of not blowing things out of proportion, always keeping the singing and dancing in line with what's going on plot-wise, avoiding the dreaded dance party sequence that animated films love to end with.
- The voice cast. It's a massive collection of great talent, and everyone is cast perfectly. I was particularly fond of Taron Egerton as Johnny, because Oh my Goodness can that man sing. I dare say that his cover of "I'm Still Standing" is better than Elton John's original. Seth McFarlane also continues to show that he's more than just a raunchy comedian; he's also a delicate singer. Everyone gets a moment to shine during the show at the end, and there is no weak link to speak of.
- All the great singing can't mask the fact that the plot is rather messy and cliched. Rosita is the underappreciated member of her family who tries to do something to get herself truly noticed. Johnny is the reluctant odd ball of his gorilla group, wanting to put his time and energy into singing, not committing crimes. And then you have Buster Moon, who stays on the margins of unlikable for the vast majority of the film as he tries to lie, cheat, and steal his way through his troubles until it all comes crashing down on him. Sing spends a lot of time looking into the offstage lives of these characters, but not in a very structured way. You can also easily predict a lot of what's going to happen, so pretty much nothing is going to come at you like a total surprise.
I haven't said anything about the film's humor, and that's because there really isn't a whole lot of it worth mentioning. Some of the jokes and references land, but plenty of others don't. That didn't keep the film from raking enough in at the box office to warrant a 2020 sequel. As a whole, Sing features top-notch singing and musical delight that mightily outweighs any and all flaws with plot and cliches. See it for a delightful 108 minutes of fun without having to worry about thematic depth and thought-provoking ideas.
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