How is it that talent contests are so addictive? Be honest, no matter how ordinary the performer, how awful the act, or how badly they sing, we watch; we can’t help it. It’s an entertainment magnet. And when you find a talent who actually stands out, it’s like being part of a big showbiz discovery, and it’s fun to share in the glory, if only for a moment before turning the channel.
In the new animated, jukebox musical comedy Sing from writer/director Garth Jennings, a koala named Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) is only too aware of an audience’s interest in watching a talent contest, and he needs a contest, desperately, in order to save his theatre and his career.
Ever since Buster was six he’s loved musical theatre. His parents took him to see the celebrated singer Miss Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders in speech, Jennifer Hudson as the singing voice), a Suffolk sheep performing The Beatles’ Golden Slumbers on stage, and he fell in love. He fell in love with everything; the lights, the curtains, the atmosphere, the whole theatre, and it changed the course of his ambition from becoming the first koala on the moon to that of entertainment entrepreneur, specializing in musicals. Despite the humor of that scene, anyone who shares the same love as Buster – and we are legion – will know exactly how he felt when that magic first hit. It’s something quite real.
The world of Sing is the same as Disney’s Zootopia, a place populated entirely by animals with human traits. In many respects, the film could easily be populated by humans – there’s no apparent reason for anyone to be presented as anthropomorphic animals, and none are given – yet watching a pig singing Taylor Swift or Katy Perry, a mouse performing something from Frank Sinatra, or an elephant doing her best Stevie Wonder simply makes things visually funnier. Though, curiously, when Buster goes to a swanky city restaurant for a business meeting, in a world populated entirely by animals, you might find yourself wondering, exactly what’s on the menu?
As we discover, Buster may love musical theatre but his choices have never worked. He’s never had a hit. Every musical staged was a flop, and now the creditors are knocking and he needs to pay off mounting debts before his theatre is claimed by the bank. The answer? Simple. A talent contest. The performers work for free, the prize money could be minimal, and audiences are guaranteed to love it. It can’t fail. With the help, though mostly hindrance, from the elderly iguana with the wonky glass eye who has worked for Buster for years, the advertising pamphlets for the contest are published and distributed throughout the city. But there’s a problem. Buster instructs the iguana to print the prize money as $1,000. It’s all he can afford. Due to the wonky eye, the well meaning though clumsy iguana, voiced by the film’s director, Garth Jennings, accidentally adds a few zeros on the keyboard, and the pamphlet reads $100,000. Contestants flock.
If Sing was a tale told with humans, setting up the individual backstories of the central contestants and their reasons for wanting to enter would have taken longer, but in an animated feature, events zip from one story to another at the speed of light, and before you know it, there’s a story of a housewife pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) mother to an enormous family who dreams of showbiz; an arrogant mouse, Mike, with an inflated ego and a voice like Sinatra (Seth MacFarlane); a London cockney gorilla, Johnny (Taron Egerton) whose father wants him to be a criminal, just like his dad, but all Johnny wants to do is sing; a porcupine punk rocker, Ashley (Scarlett Johansson) whose boyfriend fails the audition and thinks his girlfriend is selling out; and Meena (Tori Kelly, whose real-life singing career began on American Idol) an elephant with stage fright but an outstanding voice. Ironically, when Kelly appeared on American Idol in 2010, judge Simon Cowell described her singing style as “almost annoying.” But, really, what would he know?
Sing is fueled by the songs but little else. It’s certainly fun to watch and hear, and the speed with which scenes jump from one event to another hold attention and keep most things amusing, but the film goes no further than being something of the moment, like the temporary real-life careers of many a talent show contestant. Animation is bright, colorful and lively, but the look of the animals are generic at best. It’s not unusual in a Disney film to see some characteristic feature of the person supplying the voice on the face of their animated counterpart, something that makes them individual, but in Sing the elephant simply looks like an elephant, and the koala, a generic koala. Any character Buster is given comes not through behavior or his features but by the liveliness of McConaughey’s expressive voice delivery. If there was a second koala in the film, other than the costume, he or she would look exactly the same. But the singing is great, and that’s why you’re there.
The grand finale concert is not what you’ll expect – circumstances force a change in Buster’s presentation plans – but that final twenty minutes or so where the contestants get their full moment of glory before an audience will cause the broadest of grins. And what a soundtrack. What’s not to like about watching a pig sing Shake It Up, a gorilla doing his best Elton John to I’m Still Standing, and an elephant bringing the house down with Stevie Wonder’s Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing? Every one will have their favorite. I was rooting for the elephant.
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 108 Minutes Overall Rating: 7 (out of 10)