2016 has been one of the greatest years for animated films. From Disney’s two releases, Zootopia and Moana, to Laika’s under-appreciated Kubo and the Two Strings, animation has rocked the movie world better than much of its live-action competition. But then there is Illumination Entertainment (Minions), who like Disney decided to release two heavy hitters this year. First was Secret Life of Pets, which took the world and box office by storm, and now Sing is looking to do the same. But with so many movies already released, can it ignite the same excitement as Illumination’s other hits?
The answer is a mixed result, mostly flavored with the disappointment from the get go at the overall basic nature of the piece. The story is one we’ve seen time and time again—a down and out character is looking for a way to make a big break and save his theater (Buster Moon voiced by Matthew McConaughey) and decides the only way to do that is by holding a singing competition/variety show. But when Moon’s secretary accidentally writes that the reward will be $100,000 dollars instead of the initial $1,000, the animals of Sing‘s world take notice and try their luck at winning the (truly non-existent) reward.
In this group of hopefuls is Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a stay at home pig who dreams of having herself be noticed for her talents and be taken seriously by her husband and children. Then there is Johnny (Taron Egerton) a gorilla who wants to sing, yet has a dad that wants him more involved with their family’s criminal ways. There’s also Ash (Scarlett Johansson) a young punk rock porcupine whose romantic relationship is driving her away from her musical dreams. They’re followed by Mike (Seth MacFarlane) a crooning Frank Sinatra-loving mouse, Meena (Tori Kelly) an elephant with a stunning voice but stage fright, and Gunter (that pig in the track suit, voiced by Nick Kroll.) All of these protagonists give Sing its very crowded cast and multiple plot lines—the kind that gives the film too much congestion in its almost 2-hour running time.
In fact, that is the note that Sing performs in the flattest of ways—its story. Following predictable beats within the Animation genre is nothing new, but having too many of those easy-to-guess endings for our protagonists from the second they appear on screen can leave audiences with an underwhelming experience. We all know these characters will “make it,” but the way they get there is so “by-the-books” or too rushed (to the point of where even certain characters disappear from the film entirely for no reason) that you just want to scream by the end “What is the point?”
The point, though, is to sell plushies and soundtracks on iTunes of your favorite stars singing slightly above Glee covers of your favorite songs, along with showcasing their own “original” material. And to that point, Sing works well in providing some of the most talented actors the chance to show their vocal skills—making Sing in that aspect well worth the ticket price. Standouts including Egerton and Tori Kelly, who are both new to the animation world and are welcome additions, compared to past celebrity voice acting performances. McConaughey also does some nice work as Buster Moon, giving this little koala the optimistic, almost Mickey Rooney-esque attitude the role demands.
But the real characters who shine brighter than their leads are the supporting players, particularly Ms. Crawley (played by writer/director Garth Jennings) who steals every scene and is the most (and truly only) memorable part of the entire ensemble. Clearly, Jennings isn’t exactly the most awe-inspiring filmmaker in animation right now, but at least he gave himself the best role within his own movie.
Overall, there isn’t anything exactly morally wrong with Sing, but standing next to 2016’s more groundbreaking and genre-shifting films (especially Zootopia) makes the movie by default look like the most basic of material that animation has to offer. And even within the sub-genre of Anthropomorphic Animal type stories, it doesn’t do anything in any shape or form that is innovative.
Trying to step on the toes of familiar ground (such as cult classic Cats Don’t Dance) with little to no risks involved, Sing will work for the kid-friendly audience it wants to reach. But for the Oscar attention it secretly would like to achieve (based on its release date), Sing does nothing but perfectly imitate the variety shows it is inspired by—it may entertain and produce a winner, but by next year you’ll likely be forgetting it even came out in the first place.