I’ve had many people ask me about this film (perhaps because it’s one of the few holiday releasees suitable for the entire family), and they’ve referred to it as “that one about the singing animals doing an ‘American Idol’-type show,” which is never really the structure of Sing, even though the trailers might lead you to believe it is. Sing begins as the story of a shifty showrunner who needs a big hit to keep his theater running, so he comes up with the idea of running a singing contest for a big cash prize. But before long, the film becomes that classic Hollywood musical scenario of a bunch of talented singers putting on a joint show, singing almost entirely fairly recent popular hits to pull in a crowd just for the love of entertaining the people.
The ringmaster of the show is koala bear Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey, having better luck in the animated world with this and Kubo and the Two Strings, then with his live-action features), who has a deep, sentimental connection to the theater he’s running and is always able to borrow a little cash when needed from his rich llama buddy Eddie (John C. Riley). But when Eddie gets cut off by his parents, Buster is forced to wheel and deal, and he comes up with the contest idea, which he accidentally advertises as having a much bigger cash prize than he actually has.
During the audition process, we meet a few of the other characters, including housewife pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), crooning mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), punk rock porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson), rebel gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), shy songbird elephant (Tori Kelly), and and twinkle-toed pig in a sparkly unitard Gunter (Nick Kroll). Each character has their own challenges that might keep them from performing—from other obligations and discouraging significant other to crushing stagefright and eventually a lack of a venue. I’m fairly certain all of the voice actors also do their own singing, and most of it is pretty solid even if the song choices are uninspired. The film also features some great additional voice work from the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Jennifer Saunders, Jay Pharoah, Peter Serafinowicz, and Nick Offerman, but most of the performances play it fairly safe, and there aren’t really any standouts outside of McConaughey.
Sing comes courtesy of co-directors Christophe Lourdelet (who has worked on the art or animation departments for such films as Minions, The Lorax, Despicable Me 2, Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits) and Garth Jennings (who helmed the live-action works Son of Rambow and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). While the messages about confidence and stepping outside your place in the world are certainly ones worthy promoting, the movie resorts to some fairly broad humor and uninspired dialogue. Still, considering this comes from the studio that also released the Despicable Me/Minions movies and The Secret Life of Pets, I liked Sing a tad bit better than any of those titles, if only because the third act does not play out as you might expect.
Sing is a good-natured, well-intentioned bit of jukebox fluff that is at its most frustrating when you can see how it could have possibly gone in a more interesting direction. McConaughey has rarely sounded this in touch with the slick-talking flim-flam man inside him, and it goes a long way toward boosting the energy levels of the movie. The songs are certainly catchy, but they aren’t performed in particularly interesting ways, with the exception of the one original song (sung by Johansson, written by songwriter/producer Dave Bassett), which at least has some edge to it.
Sing won’t hurt you, but it probably won’t move you much either. It’s a mixed bag that I’m just barely recommending.