Kernel Rating (out of 5):
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 108 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. This film about animals auditioning for a singing competition includes some modern-day pop music that is sexually suggestive, like bunny rabbits shaking their tails to “Baby Got Back”; a criminal gang involved in theft; some bathroom humor and a few rude jokes; a scary scene where characters almost drown; and some goofy, gross moments, like a lizard’s glass eye popping out.
The latest animated film ‘Sing’ has the same kind of generic ‘be yourself’ message that so many children’s movies do, but is supported by excellent vocal performances and a likeable soundtrack. This isn’t a classic, but it’s enjoyable viewing for younger viewers.
By Roxana Hadadi
Illumination Entertainment has a somewhat standard formula for its films, which include “Despicable Me,” “Minions,” and “The Secret Life of Pets”: Even weirdos, (literal) underdogs, and average people deserve a chance at happiness, if they would just be themselves. It’s a simplistic message, but one that Illumination Entertainment keeps recycling, and they do so again in “Sing.” At one point, someone describes the auditioning animals as “real talent from real life.” These aren’t Disney’s princesses.
But “Sing” jazzes up its familiar narrative with a stacked voice cast, strong soundtrack choices, and a crowd-pleasing conclusion that should please anyone who even casually watched the likes of “American Idol,” “The X Factor,” “The Voice,” “America’s Got Talent,” or any similarly audition-based reality programs. In that way, “Sing” doesn’t aim very high—it knows people like watching other people sing, and when those “other people” are actually anthropomorphic animals, the cuteness increases tenfold—but still, it hits its marks, obvious as they may be.
The movie focuses on the koala Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey, of “Kubo and the Two Strings”), drowning in debt and in danger of closing the theater his father bought him years ago, after Buster as a child developed a passion for the performing arts. With only $935 to his name, ducking calls from his bank and avoiding his angry, unpaid stage crew, Buster dreams up the idea of a singing competition to generate interest in his theater.
When a typo on the flier advertises the prize money as $100,000 instead of $1,000, Buster has a crowd of hopeful singers to perform in his show. The standouts are a varied bunch: prim and proper pig housewife Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon, of “Hot Pursuit”), stifled by caring for her 25 piglets and neglectful husband; sensitive teen gorilla Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton, of “Eddie the Eagle”), who would rather sing than join his father’s gang; porcupine punk rocker Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson, of “Captain America: Civil War”), who yearns to write her own music but is undermined by her dismissive boyfriend; the slick, suited mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane, of “Ted”), a Rat Pack wannabe always looking for the next score; and shy young elephant Meena (singer Tori Kelly), terrified of unleashing her soulful voice onstage.
For Buster, his task is to coach everyone in their performances, but they all have drama, from Rosita’s dreams being mocked by her own children to Ash’s boyfriend leaving her for another singer (hilariously named Becky, a wonderful nod to Beyonce’s “Lemonade” album). And that’s not all—Buster also needs to secure an investor, a responsibility that is doubted by everyone, even his best friend Eddie (voiced by John C. Reilly, of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), a wealthy, aimless sheep.
With all those obstacles, will the show ever get off the ground? “Sing” goes further than you would expect in derailing Buster’s plans, but while its narrative is choppy because of so many different characters, at least it gives them each distinct personalities. McConaughey, Witherspoon, and Egerton are particularly successful in imbuing their roles with real feeling; when Johnny panics at letting down his father or Rosita wearily says “I should just be getting groceries,” you understand the obstacles each of them is facing. There’s an attention to detail for all these characters that also benefits their song performances; don’t be surprised if MacFarlane’s rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” moves you to tears.
That’s not to say everything about “Sing” feels fresh, since Buster’s “dream big dreams” advice is standard stuff and a performance of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” feels quite out of place. But images like a stage illuminated by glowing squid, a koala and a sheep teaming up to wash cars, and an animated time-lapse sequence of a construction project are meaningful and memorable. “Sing” doesn’t have the most unique premise, but its execution is enjoyably adequate.
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