Sing Director: Garth Jennings Screenwriter: Garth Jennings Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Nick Kroll Distributor: Universal Pictures Rated PG | 110 minutes Release Date: December 21, 2016
Sometimes what looks good can end up being just slightly disappointing. In this case, Illumination’s Sing gives a very earnest effort through its well-intentioned story and an excellent collection of songs that spans generations and genres, but falls very short of being great through its lack of a narrative and inability to juggle the many subplots. Backed by a great ensemble of actors and singers, director Garth Jenning‘s animated film has all the makings of an Illumination Entertainment film, but fails to execute a great concept.
In Sing, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is the owner of a dying music theater. With the help of his assistant, a slightly senile green iguana named Ms. Karen Crawley (Jennings), Buster barely manages to keep his beloved music theater afloat. And when the bank threatens to foreclose on it, the optimistic owner hatches a plan. He tells his best friend Eddie Noodleman (John C. Reilly) that he will be holding a singing competition. However, he can only come up with $1,000 and that is only whatever is in his briefcase. In order to promote this, Crawley types out the flyers, but her glass eye accidentally pops out and the prize money accidentally becomes $100,000. This attracts a large number of contestants, much to the surprise of Buster, who doesn’t realize that they think they will win $100,000.
So Buster settles on Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a housewife pig who had dreams of becoming a pop star but gave up on it to take care of her husband and 25 piglets; Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a dated-gangster zoot suit-wearing mouse with a Frank Sinatra-like voice; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rocking porcupine who plays to empty crowds; Meena (Tori Kelly), a large elephant with an equally large booming voice; and Gunter (Nick Kroll), a German pig who loves to dance and sing freely.
Of course, things don’t quite go as planned, and Buster’s mantra of “hitting rock bottom there is nowhere else to go, but up” is put to a very easy test. It isn’t so much as a poor execution in its story, but more of did anyone really learn their lesson in this film. The second act, which reveals some truths, is supposed to be hard-hitting and a low point for our characters. But Sing seems to gloss over that, if not ignore what just happened. Not going to tread into spoiler territory, but if you are familiar with how these stories go, you know where Sing will be heading. But it is a bit troubling that there doesn’t seem to be any sort of repercussions.
But, because this is a family friendly film, I can see how this might play well with audiences. The animation is gorgeous, once again. It is brimming with bright colors and slapstick comedy, and with the addition of music, it captures our attention. Our five contestants can really sing. Director Garth Jennings made an effort to make the cast sing to add some authenticity to the film. We already knew that Witherspoon can sing from her performance as June Cash in Walk the Line. Kelly is already an award-winning music artist with one of the best voices of the contestants. MacFarlane provides a velvety voice by channeling his fandom for old-time jazz. Kroll gives some comedic light to the film. And Johansson, who’s released chart-topping solo albums, gives it the rebellious touch.
While all of these characters are cool, the film doesn’t spend nearly enough time for them to develop or for audiences to care about their growth. But Sing cleverly hides that with the slapstick humor and musical cues. Try as it might, by the time these five contestants get their moment to shine, our emotional investment in them is zero. But this really isn’t their story, it’s Buster’s. For that reason, this film couldn’t figure out what it wants to be. Is it a about five everyday people with singing talents or is it about Buster’s struggle to keep his theater afloat?
But I’ll give Illumination and Jennings credit for trying their best to get a great animated feature out. Five years is a lot of time to spend on one film. But given how long these animated features take to get right – not to mention to get the clearance for the song selections – it comes as no surprise that it took five years. Hobbling through the first two-thirds of the film to get to that inevitable third singing act may not be worth the wait to some, but it may be otherwise for those who enjoy great third-act musical numbers. One thing is for sure, I would have liked Sing if it focused more on its title.