Review: ‘Sing 2’ (go big or go home)

The auditions are over; the real work begins.

Having spun his rundown theater into a rousing success with a talent show five years earlier, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) sells out hometown shows nightly under the approving eye of his matron Nana (Jennifer Saunders), yet he still thinks he can do better. When talent scout Suki (Chelsea Peretti) leaves halfway through their show, she tells Buster he doesn’t have what it takes to make it in Redshore City. Assembling his performers, Buster invades the entertainment destination and sneaks into the auditions, getting lucky when Gunter (Nick Kroll) pitches a sci-fi show producer Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) approves on the spot. Not only does Buster have to create and construct a hit show in just three weeks, the finale hinges on landing rock star Clay Callaway (Bono) — a recluse who hasn’t been seen in public for fifteen years — or else Mr. Crystal will make sure Buster disappears… permanently.

Writer/director Garth Jennings managed to take an all-star vocal cast and spin it into a talent-show film with Illumination’s Sing, with an above-average story for a stock-plot save-the-theater hustle film. A lot of it was weighed down on individual character introductions and backstory, but like Buster himself, it was willed into being. The new film builds on the characters and success of the first movie, pitting the group against an unscrupulous producer and pushing themselves beyond their own boundaries, yet still finding time to add a couple of new parts and their stories to the mix. With a soundtrack of popular songs reworked for family audiences and watching a show come together at the last possible minute, is it possible a concept this manic with a huge ensemble can equal or beat the film that inspired it?

Illumination knows where their bread is buttered. Parlaying Despicable Me into five total films and two more with The Secret Life of Pets, only the original Sing stood out as the only one-off until trailers started showing up ahead of the 2021 holidays. Targeting the widest audience possible through family content in the most Pixar of ways, the musical portions were part of an intentional show rather than Trolls suddenly breaking out into song or dance. With characters needing to step up or step out to make their dreams come true, the film juggles the cast and subplots with reassuring ease. The comeback story with Bono’s Callaway is especially heart-wrenching, but Buster’s willingness to hustle for others at his own expense is pure leadership and proof of extraordinary character, fueling the story to the very end… and just happens to be the nicest part Matthew McConaughey has ever done.

The director himself voices Miss Crawly, the elderly glass-eyed iguana who’s Buster’s second in command. Scarlett Johansson owns Ash while Reese Witherspoon gives soul to Rosita. Newcomers include Halsey as Porsha Crystal and Letitia Wright voicing Nooshy; Bobby Cannavale brings his mobster A-game to the wolfen Mr. Crystal. One of the early numbers by the late Prince would likely make him cringe, but the remaining covers are fine, especially in the context of the stage show (plus the talent montage). Much of the mild peril and violence is suggested, but the risks are a bit higher this time around… and so are the rewards.

The animation is what you expect from Illumination at this point, with layers of detail and special attention to animal fur on various critters. Adults will recognize the older tunes and mature themes while younger audiences can latch onto the more relatable characters in their age group; it’s one of the few family-oriented films out for the holidays. Where can our heroes go from here? Probably the movie industry while really getting meta with it, but until then, the show must go on.

Sing 2 is rated PG for some rude material, mild peril/violence, and more lemurs than you can shake a broom handle at.

Four skull recommendation out of four

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