Mark Reviews Movies

Sing (2016)

SING (2016)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Garth Jennings

Cast: The voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Garth Jennings, Nick Kroll, Jennifer Saunders, Peter Serafinowicz, Nick Offerman, Beck Bennett, Jay Pharoah, Leslie Jones, Rhea Perlman, Laraine Newman, Jennifer Hudson

MPAA Rating: PG (for some rude humor and mild peril)

Running Time: 1:48

Release Date: 12/21/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | December 21, 2016

It opens and closes with the Beatles, and in between there is about as eclectic a mix of tunes as one could imagine, from modern pop favorites to jazz standards to classic rock and R&B to a couple of original songs for the movie. The soundtrack for the computer-animated, animal-populated Sing has something for everyone, combining master recordings and covers by the movie's vocal cast. If you imagined Seth MacFarlane would take "My Way" and run with it, this movie confirms that suspicion. If, for some reason, you ever wanted to hear Reese Witherspoon and Nick Kroll sing Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off," well, this movie has that, too.

A movie, of course, is not its soundtrack, although this one's must have accounted for a significant chunk of its budget. The collection could not have come cheap, which might be why the music seems to be the movie's primary focus. It's a story about singers, yes, but sometimes that fact plays like an excuse to cram as much music as possible into this. It's almost like a subliminal marketing campaign on the movie's part, except that there's nothing subliminal about it. Look at how many words already have been allotted to the soundtrack here. The music is nearly constant, and everything else about the movie serves it.

The story begins as a celebration of the theater, as Buster Moon (voice of Matthew McConaughey) recalls falling in love with the medium as a child, later becoming the first koala to open and run a theater. Over the years, it has become a financial failure, so his last-ditch effort to put posteriors in seats is to organize a talent competition. Due to a clerical error, the award goes from $1,000 to $100,000 on the flyers that are scattered around the city. Any animal that can sing—and even a few that can't—shows up to audition, leading to a montage of animated animals singing a line or two from recognizable songs. The gag is, really, about the extent of the movie's humor (save for some lowbrow stuff, like a flatulently nervous bison). The rest of the jokes come from the visuals of animals singing and dancing to assorted songs.

The finalists are a diverse bunch. Rosita (voice of Witherspoon) is a pig who has 20-some piglets and an inattentive husband (voice of Nick Offerman). In order to rehearse for the show, she devises an elaborate series of mechanical contraptions to do the housework and get the kids ready for school. Buster teams her up with Gunter (voice of Kroll), an energetic pig with a penchant for sparkly leotards.

Mike (voice of MacFarlane) is a mouse with a big ego, who, believing that he's going to win the contest, goes into debt and gets in deep with a trio of bear thugs. Ash (voice of Scarlett Johansson) is a punk-rocking porcupine whose boyfriend (voice of Beck Bennett) won't let her have an inch of the spotlight. Johnny (voice of Taron Egerton) is the gorilla son of the leader of a gang of thieves, and Meena (voice of Tori Kelly) is a shy elephant who gets stage fright during her audition and ends up working as a stagehand on the show—until Buster decides to give her a chance.

The loose plot involves Buster trying to get the $100,000 he doesn't have and the bank's impending foreclosure of the theater. It doesn't matter, except that the resulting conflicts feel more like a burden than a benefit. The attitude here is of the "Let's put on a show" mentality, and the screenplay by director Garth Jennings is at its most effective when it doesn't let the other stuff get in the way of putting on that show.

Pretty much every subplot and all of the characters' hijinks are extraneous. Rosita's relationship with her family is more depressing than Jennings seems to realize, considering that her big accomplishment is revealing that her absence goes unnoticed by her children and husband. The crime-focused subplots involving Mike and Johnny are a strange match for the movie's otherwise innocent spirit (Those subplots really get in the way during the climactic show, as a prison break and an attempted murder—yes, you read that correctly—interrupt a couple of performances). Ash goes from an aimlessly moody teenager to a moody teenager for a reason, once her boyfriend takes up another singing partner. Meena overcoming her shyness is an inevitable conclusion, as is Buster's eventual despair when the theater's financial woes grow dire (One inspired sight gag shows how a koala would wash a car).

What sticks is the carefree attitude of talented performers coming together to entertain an audience. That goes for the story, but it also, again, brings us back to the apparently impossible-to-avoid soundtrack. The movie's admiration of various musical forms doesn't seem like pandering. Sing is sincere in highlighting these tunes. It's just a shame that we have to deal with the weird sight of animated animals performing them to get the good stuff.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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