Illumination Entertainment brings down the house… er, theater.
Buster Moon (voice of Matthew McConaughey) is the owner of an aging theater that’s seen better days. Desperate to keep it operating in spite of flailing ticket sales and disinterest, he conceives the idea of a singing competition with a $1000 prize. Due to a series of unfortunate events, unedited flyers go out offering a $100,000 prize that Buster has no means to cover, especially with the bank already threatening to repossess the theater over past debts. Determined to pull it off by any means, Buster sets himself to the task, but can a mother pig (Reese Witherspoon), her clothing-optional dance partner (Nick Kroll), a grifter mouse (Seth MacFarlane), a punk porcupine (Scarlett Johansson), a crooning gorilla (Taron Egerton), and a timid elephant (Tori Kelly) pull off the show of the decade?
Anthropomorphic animals are nothing new to animation, but after watching Zootopia, it’s hard not to imagine all this is taking place in a suburb of that world, one of a thousand waiting-to-be-told stories. In direct contrast to other big animated family fare throughout 2016, this movie lands somewhere in between zany films like The Secret Life of Pets and self-discovery fare like Disney’s Moana, coupling entertainment value with enough heart to draw a fair comparison to Pixar’s Finding Dory… and that’s saying something. The trailers promise songs from multiple generations, but can cross appeal draw in the family audiences one last time this year for a predictable plot that certain to end with our heroes in concert?
The buzz is strong with this one, especially nipping at the heels of the current box office juggernaut Rogue One. Since bursting on the scene with 2010’s surprise hit Despicable Me and an army of cover-alled Twinkie-looking Minions, Illumination hasn’t looked back. The Secret Life of Pets already knocked it out of the park earlier this year with a completely original new set of characters, but Sing is more relatable in that the talking animals are the people rather than existing in a world alongside of them. Of course, none of it would have worked without the music, and variations in form and style hits that all-important all-inclusive groove that excludes no one.
Matthew McConaughey completely disappears into Buster, a koala who creatively keeps things going with little thefts and unpaid debts but rarely shows any sign of quitting or backing down. The same can be said for Witherspoon, Kelly, and mostly MacFarlane; only Scarlett Johansson lends her voice without change, but her character seems drawn from the voice itself and fits seamlessly. John C. Reilly does his best friend/sidekick thing once again as Eddie; too bad we couldn’t get a sheepish rendition of “Mr. Cellophane” out of him for this. With a singing voice cast like this at their disposal, it already must have seemed like a sure-thing before the animation even started.
It’s hard to say what could be improved with this movie other than being too light-hearted or a musical that actually isn’t a musical — La La Land has all those bases covered, by the way, for those interested. There’s also a huge ensemble cast of characters, but to the filmmakers credit, they manage to make us like everyone quickly with only glimpses of their backstory, complexities and all. If you’re not into music, talking animals, or stepping behind the curtain for all the madness in making a stage show work, this isn’t the movie for you. For everyone else, Sing is rated PG for a few stereotypes and too much pig skin — that’s not a football reference.
4 Skull Recommendation Out of Four