Review: Sing (TIFF 2016)
PLOT: Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear/theatrical impresario, attempts to save his run-down theater by staging a singing competition featuring a Porcupine punk singer (Scarlett Johansson), a domestic pig (Reese Witherspoon) with a dozen kids, a tough-guy mouse (Seth MacFarlane), a shy elephant (Tori Kelly) and a thuggish gorilla (Taron Egerton) with a golden voice.
REVIEW: SING is Illumination Entertainment’s stab at critical respectability. Following a series of modestly budgeted smash hits which have grossed in the billions (including this summer’s THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS and the DESPICABLE ME series), this passion project from producer Chris Meledandri (and THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY director Garth Jennings) appears as if it were conceived to propel them into a higher realm, with it making a big-splash at the Toronto International Film Festival. A jukebox musical in the vein of ROCK OF AGES, SING is impressive, even if only for the insane amount of smash-hit songs packed into the less than two hour running time, running the gamut from Lennon/McCartney to Lady Gaga.
It’s certainly big, bold and colorful and seems all but certain to become another smash hit for the company, although major critical attention is somewhat unlikely. Who cares though, when the movies make this kind of money? In some ways similar to Disney’s ZOOTOPIA, in that it’s about a city of anthropomorphic animals, SING is two-dimensional but fun – being a kind of “let’s put on a show” throwback that would have been right at home in a golden age MGM Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland musical.
As the koala hero, Matthew McConaughey seems to be having a grand old time, with the animator seemingly basing Buster’s face and mannerisms right on him – making it feel more like a fully-embodied performance than a mere voice-over part. He’s a lovable guy I’m sure kids will want in stuffed-animal form, and another solid hero in the mold of Gru or the Minions for Illumination. Laid-back in a very McConaughey-esque way, he’s a character defined mostly by his love of music, even if he never really sings much himself (minus a few bars of “Call Me Maybe”).
By contrast, the other marquee names all sing multiple tunes, making this a kind of superstar version of ‘American Idol’. Lucky for our ears, most of the actors can already sing, with Reese Witherspoon having already impressed us as June Carter Cash in WALK THE LINE, and Scarlett Johansson having cut a few really solid albums. Seth MacFarlane’s also had a parallel career as a crooner, making his Frank Sinatra-styled mouse (right down to his tough guy patter) a good fit, while Taron Egerton surprises as the golden-voiced gorilla, first spotted singing The Zombies’ ‘The Way I Feel Inside’. In short, everyone comes off pretty well, and without any too obvious “studio magic.” The cast soundtrack album for this one should be a huge added bonus for Illumination’s already stuffed coffers.
Where SING really comes-up short is in the story department, with the plot being very basic. Basically, it’s all about putting on a modest show, with the only drama revolving around a misunderstanding regarding the $100,000 prize and the prospect of Buster’s theater being shut-down. The characters all have their own little mini-dramas, with Witherspoon not getting any help parenting by her lazy husband (Nick Offerman) while Johansson lives in the shadow of her less talented boyfriend. The most prominent b-plot revolves around Egerton’s gorilla accidently getting his thug dad (memorably voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) arrested and needing the prize money to bail him out.
Despite not much meat on the bones, it can’t be denied SING is often wildly entertaining and a fun, toe-tapping musical with infectious energy. The kids will love and their parents likely will too, making this an almost certain Christmastime smash for the studio.
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