Animals, Animation, Christophe Lourdelet, Comedy, Garth Jennings, Illumination Entertainment, Matthew McConaughey, Musical, Reese Witherspoon, Review, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Singing contest
D: Garth Jennings, Christophe Lourdelet / 108m
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Kroll, Beck Bennett, Nick Offerman, Leslie Jones, Jay Pharaoh, Rhea Perlman, Laraine Newman
In a world where animals inhabit human roles, Buster Moon (McConaughey) is a koala whose love of show business has led him to owning his own theatre. But his recent productions have failed to make any money, and Buster is in debt to pretty much everyone, including his own stage crew, and the bank, in the form of llama Judith (Perlman). Needing to come up with a successful idea, Buster decides to hold a singing contest with a $1000 prize for the winner. But his secretary, Miss Crawly (Jennings), accidentally adds two extra zeros to the flier he plans to distribute across the city, and when they find their way into the hands of the public, the prize money reads $100,000. The next day, there’s a massive queue outside Moon’s theatre, all ready to audition for the contest.
Amongst the hundreds of contenders, there’s arrogant blowhard Mike (MacFarlane), a white mouse with the heart and voice of a crooner; long-suffering Rosita (Witherspoon), a pig whose dreams of becoming a singer were sidetracked when she married and had twenty-five piglets; conflicted Johnny (Egerton), a teenage gorilla who wants to avoid following in his father’s criminal footsteps; wildly extroverted Gunter (Kroll), another pig who is teamed up with Rosita; aspiring lead guitarist Ash (Johansson), a porcupine whose musical tastes run to alternative rock; and reluctant Meena (Kelly), an elephant whose shyness stops her from performing. All bar Meena are chosen by Buster to take part in the contest, and rehearsals begin in anticipation of a fantastic night for all of them.
Away from the contest, all of them face personal problems that threaten their involvement in the show. As they each juggle these problems, Buster tries to find the $100,000 he needs, and targets Nana Noodleman (Saunders), a former star who performed at Buster’s theatre. The grandmother of his best friend, sheep Eddie (O”Reilly), at first she refuses to help, but agrees to see a one-off performance by all the acts. But disaster strikes thanks to Mike’s crooked fleecing of three bears in a card game. Their interruption of the show leads to the contest having to be cancelled. Buster hides himself away at Eddie’s place, but the contestants aren’t about to give up on their dreams, and they badger him to carry on. Buster refuses, until that is, he hears a certain elephant singing Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah.
A bright and breezy musical comedy with a great deal of heart, Sing is as much a feelgood musical as La La Land (2016), and maybe more so. It’s a genuinely heartfelt, uplifting experience that takes its generic “let’s put on a show” narrative and populates it with a winning collection of anthropomorphic animals, all of whom are likeable, endearing and fun to watch. The brainchild of writer and co-director Garth Jennings (who is also a hoot as Miss Crawly, an iguana who keeps losing her glass eye), the movie doesn’t offer anything new in terms of the overall material – you can pretty much predict the solution/outcome of each character’s problems from the word go – but what it does offer is a selection of musical performances that are well-staged and wonderfully rendered by Illumination Entertainment’s animation wizards.
Sing is a bright, sometimes gaudy, colourful movie that revels in its feelgood vibe, from Buster’s ebullient never-say-die attitude, to Gunter’s carefree, self-confidence, and Mike’s insistence on being the inevitable contest winner. Even the travails of the other characters are overcome by positive, ingenious thinking, with Rosita creating a husband and children management system out of weights and pulleys, and Ash relying on her songwriting skills to offset her sadness at being replaced so readily. Only Johnny’s story contains any potential upset, as his father’s refusal to accept his son’s dream of being a singer leads to an estrangement between them, especially when Johnny puts the preview show for Nana ahead of being the getaway driver for his father’s latest robbery.
Of course, the story is about people following their dreams, and achieving them despite the obstacles in their way. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but then it doesn’t have to be. What’s important is that the characters, and the audience, are having a good time, and on this level, Sing is entirely successful, its vibrant, crowd-pleasing musical performances boasting great song choices, great interpretations (MacFarlane’s version of My Way is particularly good), and great visual representations (Rosita and Gunter’s version of Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off). On and off the stage, there’s a great selection of songs on the soundtrack, and there’s not one dud amongst them.
This being an Illumination Entertainment movie, there’s plenty of jokes, gags and visual humour, from Miss Crawly (just by herself), to Gunter’s avowal of “piggy power”, Johnny’s father’s gang wearing bunny masks on their robberies, and what happens when Rosita’s “home care system” eventually malfunctions. Only in an animated movie could you see such invention, and such comic anarchy, and only in an animated movie would it all make such wonderful, physics-defying sense. Perhaps inevitably though, there are a few maudlin moments, but there are only a few, and it’s perhaps to be expected that the script has seen fit to include them. The thing to remember is that for every sentimental moment, there’s at least five gags to compensate for it.
As is now the standard with Illumination, the animation is exemplary, with the characters’ mannerisms and foibles beautifully expressed, and Jennings is particularly adept at balancing their various storylines and subplots so that no one is reduced to a supporting role. Buster may be the ostensible lead, but the script is more than capable of focusing on each contestant without reducing the others’ screen time. Jennings has also assembled a great cast, with the likes of Johansson and Egerton proving that they’re just as good at singing as they are at acting. As Eddie the sheep, O’Reilly is a great foil for McConaughey’s chipper impresario, while Saunders delivers a sharply withering turn as the great Nana Noodleman. And for fans of innovation in animation, look out for the time-lapse photography that occurs near the end of the movie, and which is as breathtaking in its audacity as it is in its execution.
Rating: 8/10 – another critical and financial success for Illumination, Sing is a gorgeous, freewheeling exercise in the power of dreams, and features a wonderful variety of exciting musical performances; top-notch entertainment that extends the company’s run of success at the box office, this is just the kind of movie to chase away any negative feelings, and provide its audience with a thoroughly good time.