A crowd-pleaser amongst the Zootopian ruins.
Director Christophe Lourdelet & Garth Jennings/2016
Illumination Entertainment has quitely been building its brand with the success of films like Despicable Me and Minions. With its latest film, Sing, it is looking for another crowd-pleasing title to add to its filmography. With first time director, Christophe Lourdelet, who has worked in the art department for films like Despicable Me 2, Arthur Christmas, and The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and pairing him with Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow, The HItchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), Illumination hopes to tackle the ever successful world of singing competitions.
Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a down-on-his-luck Koala Bear who owns the Moon Theater. It was a love affair with the theater as a young boy that led him to dream about one day owning this place and filling it with entertainment of all kinds. He remembers fondly his father’s sacrifice of washing cars day in and day out to help him raise the money to purchase it. But none of Buster’s plays have been a success. The theater is now quite dilapidated, and Buster is behind on his payments. He just needs a hit. Staging a singing contents for a $1,000 prize seems to be his answer. When his distracted assistant, a elderly lizard, mistakenly types $100,000 on the fliers, they are inundated with interest.
The film has enough decent jokes to keep it afloat, but it is really the music and sentimentality that makes it work enough to be a crowd-pleaser in the end, even if the formula, plot, and animation is a bit like the ruins found in the film’s story.
The film spends a little time introducing us to a host of characters that will eventually be the contestants. There is Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who is a stay-at-home mom to 25, a self-absorbed Mouse named Mike (Seth MacFarlane) who likes to hustle and blow his money at the card tables, Ash (Scarlett Johansson) the teenaged porcupine who wants to simply rock-n-roll with her boyfriend, Johnny (Aaron Egerton) a gorilla being groomed by his father to work in their gang knocking off banks and the like, and then there is Meena (Tori Kelly), a shy elephant with a voice of gold who is too afraid to try out.
The film runs itself like a mini version of the now defunct American Idol. There are the typically funny tryouts, the rehearsals, and then the big show. In the meantime, each character struggles in their own story with the singing contest as their focused hope for overcoming their own personal issues. As far as a plot goes, it is a tired formula: have a huge show to save the theater (or community center). I think everyone from The Brady Bunch, to Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo have tried this approach. It’s a tired approach, but is apparently being recycled again. When the opening number is “Golden Slumbers“, you are immediately worried. While it is a great Beatles tune, you hope it does not prove to be prophetic for the film at large.
When the theater is literally reduced to ruins, will the show go on? The film has enough decent jokes to keep it afloat, but it is really the music and sentimentality that makes it work enough to be a crowd-pleaser in the end, even if the formula, plot, and animation is a bit like the ruins found in the film’s story. With shows like The Voice, still getting ratings, apparently we haven’t grown tired of such contests, and like Johnny the Gorilla’s take on Elton John, both the genre, and the theater rubble they are performing in can shout “I’m still standing“, even when they shouldn’t be.
Yet, Sing does manage to be a crowd-pleaser in the end with younger kids guaranteed to jump and dance in front of their seat in the theater you take them to, in order to watch this.
The fact is that this is mid-level animation at best. It is better than recent fare like Angry Birds, or Storks, and fits it better with The Secret Life of Pets or The Wild Life. But compared to Disney and Pixar’s offerings of Moana and Zootopia, this film has nothing to offer in terms of animation. Speaking of Zootopia, Sing is again late to the party as they seek to mine the same setting of an all animal culture who behave and operate just like us. Where Zootopia was able to pull it off and subversively deal with deep topics such as race relations, the relationship of the police to the community, as well as overcoming hurdles and accomplishing one’s dreams, Sing is content to simply use a singing contest as a means to show one point: hard work can pay off.
This is not an unimportant lesson. In a generation apt to expect success and fame no matter the reason, this contest shows that you aren’t going to be handed anything, unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves, and make it happen. Buster tries the shortcuts like begging his rich friend Eddie (John C. Reilly) and his wealthy grandmother, Nana (Jennifer Saunders/Jennifer Hudson), for the money to cover his expenses, but fortunately the film shows that no one will give you anything if you aren’t willing to work for it.
And so a positive message rises from the ruins of a tired plot, and lesser version of better animated films released earlier this year. Yet, Sing does manage to be a crowd-pleaser in the end with younger kids guaranteed to jump and dance in front of their seat in the theater you take them to, in order to watch this. Music has a way of helping us overcome obstacles, and so music can help us overlook much and still have something to tap our toes to as we leave the theater. Illumination Entertainment just might have enough star power and a strong enough track-list to make this a hit.