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Review: Sing (2016)

Sing (2016)

Directed by: Christophe Lourdelet and Garth Jennings

Premise: An animated film taking place in a city of talking animals. A struggling theater owner (voice of Matthew McConaughey) puts on a talent competition and promises a cash prize that he has no ability to pay. The event attracts a variety of musical acts from different walks of life.

What Works: Sing isn’t intended to be Whiplash or even Singin in the Rain. It exists for the love of the music and the joy of putting on a show and the movie conveys that. Sing is packed with tunes from a variety of different musical genres, although most of them are only played in part, and the filmmakers have fun with their cast of anthropomorphic animals covering these songs. The movie focuses on a handful of characters who are selected to perform in the concert and each of them has their own distinct story. Given the ambitious number of characters, it is impressive how the filmmakers balance each of these storylines. There is also some good pairings of voice actors with their characters, namely Matthew McConaughey as the koala bear who runs the theater. Sing is a product of Illumination Entertainment, the animation house best known for the Minion films, and like the studio’s other pictures Sing has a lot of energy and humor as well as some inventive visuals. The style of Illumination’s movies is more cartoonish than the work of Pixar or Laika Entertainment but in a way that takes advantage of the scale offered by a feature film. The humor of Sing includes a wide variety of comic styles and there is plenty of physical comedy that will preoccupy children while adults ought to enjoy some of the more advanced puns and innuendos. Sing is a step up from some of Illumination’s other theatrical titles in the quality of its animation. The characters and settings have impressive visual texture and a range of emotion. There is one particular set piece that yields the crisis that leads to the third act that is very impressive and actually manages to create some palatable stakes in the movie, at least for a few minutes. But the main attraction of Sing is its musical performances and these are very entertaining. The film includes quite a few different musical genres and the final concert has the appeal and energy of a live musical performance.

What Doesn’t: Sing was released the same year as a lot of movies about civilizations of talking animals including Finding Dory and Kung Fu Panda 3. This movie’s characters are as well rendered as other animated features but the world of Sing does not have the complexity or cleverness of superior animal world titles like Zootopia. The story of Sing is little more than a framework for the musical acts. The film introduces a lot of characters such as the housewife who escapes domesticity for musical stardom, the talented introvert who must overcome her fear, the son of an alpha male who follows his dreams against his father’s wishes, and the musician who owes money to the wrong people and must win the prize money to clear his debt. Each of these stories has been seen before and done better in other movies like The Blues Brothers and The Muppets. Because the attention of the narrative is divided between all these different storylines, Sing relies on clichés and does not treat the characters with much depth. There is also very little at stake in Sing. The film establishes that there is no prize money but for most of these characters the cash doesn’t seem important anyway. And when the truth about the money is exposed the story ought to fall apart but it continues anyway so that the film can deliver on its promised musical performances, almost all of which are covers of contemporary tunes and pop music standards. And in that respect, Sing invites some cynicism. The film comes across less like a story and more like a licensing opportunity for music labels.

Bottom Line: Sing is an inoffensive trifle. There’s not much to it beyond the musical performances but Sing will keep children entertained and amuse their parents at the same time.

Episode: #629 (January 8, 2017)