Sing (2016)

by - December 25th, 2016 - Movie Reviews

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Lively Sing a Rousing Bit of Frothy Fun

Excitable koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) is on the verge of seeing his theater foreclosed upon. But the eternal optimist, he believes he’s come up with the perfect idea for a hit show. He’ll stage a singing competition, offer up a small cash prize while also helping groom the chosen contestants for stardom personally. It’s a guaranteed success, and nothing can go wrong. But even if it does Buster will push through no matter what, his belief in the power of song to overcome all obstacles beyond measure.

PHOTO: Universal Pictures

PHOTO: Universal Pictures

At the end of the day, he’ll find a small cadre of amateurs that he is eager to build a competition around. There’s shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), a gifted youngster with a powerful voice who also just happens to be suffering from a crippling case of stage fright. Along with her, there’s fellow teenager Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a rambunctious punk rock porcupine who doesn’t want to conform to any of Buster’s ideas of what pop stardom looks and sounds like. At the other end of the spectrum is overworked mom Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), forced to sneak away each morning from her 25 piglets and clueless husband Norman (Nick Offerman) in order to get a handful of hours to herself perfecting her vocals. Rounding things out are secretive gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) and egocentric mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), both of whom are massively talented even though they’re also skirting the law in ways that could easily land them in jail long before they are center stage in a talent show.

This is setup for Sing, the latest animated effort from Illumination Studios, the production house known for the Despicable Me movies, Minions and The Secret Life of Pets, and to say things do not go as planned for Buster and his crew is unsurprisingly a foregone conclusion. What is something of a shock is just how sweet, endearing and enjoyable this movie proves to be, writer and co-director Garth Jennings, the mind behind Son of Rambow and 2005’s Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy adaptation, doing a remarkable job making this a family-friendly treat worth singing the praises of. This is a fun movie. More, it is also one that has its heart stuck effortlessly in the right place, things moving along at an ebulliently jovial clip as things progress to their suitably endearing conclusion.

There isn’t anything new or unexpected. The laughs follow a typical tract, while the same can be said about a number of the structural machinations fueling the narrative. But this ends up being okay because the strength of Jennings’ script is how it understands and observes the characters themselves, all of them having a great deal more complexity than is typical of an animated enterprise not made by Pixar, Ghibli or Laika. The longer the film went along the more I cared about all of these crazy creatures, their eventual success more than enough to send me out the theater with a skip to my step and a smile on my face.

It helps considerably that the songs, a collection of over 60 familiar favorites by the likes of Frank Sinatra, The Beatles, Taylor Swift, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Katy Perry, Queen and Carly Rae Jepsen, as well as a catchy new tune from Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande, are performed with notable gusto. More, they help drive the story forward and aren’t just there for show, and other than a couple of notable exceptions each tune makes a mark that’s far more intimately sincere than I was anticipating. The final concert is a show-stopper worth cheering for, each performance better than the last as things build with a pulsating effervescent intensity that’s wonderful.

Like most Illumination productions, things do get awfully chaotic and frenzied at times. Also much like the studio’s previous efforts, this isn’t always a good thing. There are some scenes of rampant destruction that go a little more over the top than what is necessary, one central structural collapse taking forever to run its course. Same time, the carnage and the violence don’t become off-putting, Jennings’ never losing the innate sense of joy and discovery that is key for a film like this to find success. He manages to generate a splendid sense of urgency, so even when things go on longer than what is required the pacing still feels self-assured and natural thanks to this deft infusion of energy.

PHOTO: Universal Pictures

PHOTO: Universal Pictures

It are the many insights, though, that make this the entertaining charmer it proves to be. I loved the varying familial dynamics, all of them fairly dense in the way they dive into each character’s relationship with those closest to them. This includes Buster, the koala’s realization that he’s created his own version of family, whether he knew he was doing so or not, as they concern his devoted assistant, the geriatric lizard Miss Crawley (voiced by Jennings himself) and his best friend, slacker sheep Eddie (John C. Reilly), pricelessly authentic. There is a loving playfulness to the material, and as slight as it all might be that trait alone is more than enough to warrant the ticket price all by itself.

The vocal work is strong, McConaughey, Kelly, Witherspoon and the great Jennifer Saunders (as aging diva extraordinaire Nana Noodleman, Eddie’s grandmother) all making the biggest impact. There’s also a terrific scene involving Egerton and Peter Serafinowicz as Big Daddy, Johnny’s bank-robbing father, the moment achieving an almost Field of Dreams level eloquence that is delicately touching. For Jennings, Sing proves to be a wonderful addition to his too short three-film resume. Here’s hoping he adds a few extra entries, live-action or animated, I can’t say I particularly care, sooner rather than later, this little bit of frothy amusement enough to convince me to be first in line to see whatever it is he ends up having a hand in next.

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)