As a work of animation, writer/director Garth Jennings’ Sing is visually stunning.
The animation from Sony’s Illumination studio stands toe to toe with this year’s best animated films. It’s the kind of animation that reminds us of how vibrant the form can be at the hands of artists fully dedicated to their craft. The animation is so deft and playful that it’s almost enough to carry the film. Unfortunately, Jennings and Co. graft their animated hopes and dreams onto the frame of a canned, self-reflexive jukebox musical. The song choices in and of themselves, like the animation, are fine. But while the animation and musical cues in Sing do exactly that, the story and its characters offer frustratingly little in the way of depth or personality.
The one and only dream of koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is to be the manager of a world-class theater. As the movie starts, he’s achieved that dream, and struggled hopelessly as his shows attract fewer crowds and smaller profits. When the bank threatens to foreclose on the theater, Buster vows to do what countless musical protagonists before him have: Put on one last show and save the theater! But this time, it won’t be opera or Shakespeare or any of that noise; this time, Buster plans to put on a singing competition. Accidentally valuing the grand prize at $100,000 brings the entire town out to audition.
Cue a montage of talking animals performing fifty years’ worth of pop songs in about five minutes. A trio of spandex-clad frogs sing Van Halen’s “Jump,” three rabbits sing the only part of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” you could conceivably put in a children’s film, and then a pig named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) sings Katy Perry’s “Firework”. There are surprisingly few gags like the first two in this film, and far more of the third. Some thought was at least given to most tracks, choosing songs that speak to a character’s experience rather than a funny pun that mom and dad might get a laugh from. As the overworked housewife and mother to twentysome piglets, Rosita feels unappreciated and disposable, which is what drives her to enter the contest and sing “Firework” in the first place.
Rounding out the cast are Ash (Scarlett Johansson), an angsty teenage porcupine with a punk streak, and Gunter (Nick Kroll), Rosita’s performing partner whose sole purpose in life is dancing. To go on would mean spending more paragraphs explaining half a dozen other characters, their motivations, and the songs they sing. At that point, if you really want to know more, you might be better off just watching the film.
Most of the main characters get a similar treatment to Rosita, such as young gorilla Johnny (Taron Edgerton). We first meet him standing on a street corner singing The Zombies’ “The Way I Feel Inside.” We then learn that he’s an unwilling participant in his father’s gang, and can’t work up the nerve to tell his dad he’d rather not be robbing banks. Elsewhere, there’s Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a sax-playing mouse who busks for spare change. He’s only out for himself, getting into trouble with the grizzly bear mafia along the way, and ultimately performs the film’s big showstopper, singing Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. (Kids today go crazy for Ol’ Blue Eyes, or so I’m told.)
Jennings has over twenty years of experience directing music videos with Nick Goldsmith, giving him a firm grasp of how to highlight certain aspects of a performance, and how to cut a scene to music. This gives the film a huge boost of energy, especially through the film’s slower sequences. For the most part, his soundtrack is well-chosen. Still, it wouldn’t be a jukebox musical if we didn’t get the umpteenth misappropriation of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. And coming so close after Cohen’s death, the sight of a teenage elephant (Tori Kelly) singing the song over a third-act sadness montage definitely stings.
In order to fit all of Sing’s characters and musical numbers, the film runs just shy of two hours. It helps that there is rarely a dull moment, but with so many characters whose stories need to be serviced, we get precious little time to actually learn anything about any of them. Coupled with the fact that there is practically no driving conflict, Sing just winds up kind of existing on the screen with little pushing it forward. Buster’s work ethic and his enthusiasm to put on a show are admirable, but that’s all he has going on under the hood. Like Buster, Sing is exactly as shallow and vapid as it appears. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it robs the film of potentially becoming a great thing.
Liked This? Share It!