Review: Sing

Illumination Entertainment

How does one broach a review of an animated children’s movie? If the main and only criteria were “does it entertain children?”, then virtually every film in the genre would get an automatic pass. A deeper look then should be warranted, but with the aforementioned still in the back of the mind. Thankfully in the last 2 decades this task has been make all the easier, with studios like Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks Animation understanding that their films are a family affair, and making their products more well rounded as a result.

So where does this put Illumination’s Sing? Unfortunately, it’s left in the middle of a crowded street, trying to belt out at the top of its lungs for attention.

© Illumination Entertainment

To get it out of the way, kids will eat the film up, much in the same way they did with Illumination’s other release earlier this year, The Secret Life of Pets. It very much caters to the same audience, and shares a few of the shortcoming. The story follows Buster Moon (an entertainingly energetic Matthew McConaughey) a koala who runs a failing theater house and is deep deep into debt with the bank. He pitches his latest idea of a local singing competition to his best friend, a sheep named Eddie (an underutilized John C Reilly), whose father has helped finance Buster’s past ventures. Turned down, but not deterred, Buster moves forward with the plans for his show. He is greeted by an overwhelming number of entrants, due to a clerical error that states a grand prize of $100,000, when Buster has just under one thousand to offer up.
After a rapid fire (and that usage isn’t hyperbole) montage of what felt like 30 songs – the director states 85 hit songs are in the film – we settle on the motley crew of finalists. Rosita (Resse Witherspoon) is an overworked, overstressed and put upon housewife, and pig, who is in desperate need of appreciation, or at the very least some time of her own. Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla, is destined for a life of crime, but wants nothing more than to be a singer, and his dad to accept him. Ash the porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) gets dumped by her boyfriend due to her getting into the contest and needs an outlet for expression. Meena is the elephant in the room, overly shy, but possesses a powerful voice, that is just aching for an opportunity to show the world she can shine. Last is Mike the mouse, and as voiced by Seth McFarlane is the best entry point for the flaws the film is littered with.

© Illumination Entertaiment

Mike, as a character, is completely out of place with the tone of the film and the spirit that the rest of the competitors embody. He is brash, arrogant, rude, impulsive, with the film never wanting you to feel unsympathetic towards him. He isn’t the antagonist of the film, as that belongs to the omnipresent bank, waiting in the wings, threatening to stop Buster’s show at any moment. Mike also is a crooner, usually choosing a Frank Sinatra staple to prove his worth. It’s a joke that would be worth its weight if the filmmakers had made the character a rat. Simple and succinct, the moment would allow parents to have a fun conversation about what the joke is after the film, while also imparting a bit of history. The fact that this minor oversight extends to character development as well, is part of the film’s undoing. One character sings a song towards the end that should be the cathartic release of their journey. A ballad that shows they have moved on from the hold of their father, now able to live the life they have longer for. Only, directly after the song has ended, this character mopes off stage, upset their father wasn’t in the audience to be proud of their accomplishment. Constantly events feel just slightly askew, as if the team behind the film were oblivious to what they were making at times.
While the film cites a message of believing in oneself and facing fears head-on, it constantly throws obstacles at each of the characters. They almost seem resigned to their lot in life, with the exception of Mike’s freewheeling lifestyle and the exuberant excessiveness of Gunther (Nick Kroll), Rosita’s partner on stage. Buster spends a large portion of the film smiling, posturing, keeping the show together, while doom starts to shadow every move he makes. It gives a rather dour feeling to the proceedings, yet since this is an animated movie, the vestige of bright poppy colors, paired with a flatulence joke here and there, mask the the despair for a while.
© Pacing takes a large hit too. Just as things feel like they’re turning a corner, the film decides that quadrupling down on depression is the right tact. Character’s can’t grow without adversity, so you might as well bring the house down on them. Choosing a cheap ploy to end the 2nd act, Sing bends itself backwards to wring emotion from the audience, none of it earned an ounce. While not a Deus Ex Macina of the old ilk, events do come together to insure that the concert to close the film happens without a hitch. Here, finally, after an hour, do things take a better focus. The performances of the musical acts are displayed with aplomb and pizazz that hits the right chords that parents and children can enjoy, but it comes too late.

Most of what is on display during Sing could have easily been enjoyed years ago, but with many studios trying to elevate their craft, the film more so resembles the failed efforts Buster has put on in the part. At least they can take heart in knowing that if the box office take doesn’t cover the budget, the soundtrack sales will.

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