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Movie Review: ‘Sing’ Hits High Note for Cuteness But Falls Flat on Story

I came into Sing fully expecting another padded out production from Illumination Entertainment, the studio that’s been coasting on minions babbling and pets being silly. Indeed, Sing is setup to be of similar quality in how it takes the old premise of “Let’s Put on a Show” and uses it as an excuse for anthropomorphic animals to sing popular songs. The screen becomes so crowded with varied animal characters and heaps of licensed music that it’s a wonder anyone can breathe in this picture. And damned if Illumination hasn’t done it again, frustrating me with their direction that is always charming and heavily flawed. Why must you ONLY be cute, Sing?

The movie begins by quickly introducing all our key players as the camera whips around the city, rarely leaving us a moment to get to know any of them too well. Moss, an always chipper koala voiced with surprising pep by Matthew McConaughey, is struggling to keep his theater afloat and concocts a plan for a singing competition to get the public interested in the theater again. While his elderly gecko of an assistant drums up preparations, we’re then introduced to a gorilla (Taron Egerton) that aspires to use his voice more than his muscle for his dad’s gang of criminals.

sing-pigA mother pig (Reese Witherspoon) wants to let her voice shine once more from outside her noisy home. A porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) seeks a chance to make herself known as an original guitarist. A shy elephant (Tori Kelly) wants to unleash her vocals, but must overcome her fearful stage fright. A sleazy mouse (Seth MacFarlane) of a singer/saxophone player desires a chance at riches. Don’t bother questioning how Moss formed the idea for a singing competition or what the pig mom might have done in the past. That’ll take up too much time. There’s a show to be staged!

For the first two acts, the movie is mostly a balancing act of trying to make sure every character has something to do. And, to it’s credit, it’s a bit impressive that all these plots don’t fall off as the story becomes progressively more busy. In the rush to keep all these plates in the air, however, much character is lost in the race to the inevitable song and dance show.

I wanted to feel for Moss as a theater-loving koala that wants to do good by his dad and right by an aged actress he’s idolized since his youth. But he’s far too chipper to be unique and not scummy enough to enjoy as the dishonest ditcher who sneaks out the back and steals power from nextdoor. In trying to be both a hopeless huckster and starry-eyed dreamer, he never fills out either role and ends up in this odd purgatory of a likable character without personality.

Sing relies more on its music than its script which may have been the wise choice. When characters are not performing on stage, their drama doesn’t feel as heavy as it should. The gorilla Johnny has an amazing cockney singing voice from the talented Egerton, but he doesn’t appear as deeply conflicted about his desire to move away from a life of crime, seen more as a job he neglects rather than being a moral question.

That may be too heavy for such a light and fluffy animated feature, but I wish the movie wouldn’t take so many of these easy shortcuts. The pig character Rosita (Witherspoon) is able to attend rehearsals and get around having a babysitter for her kids by turning her home into a mom-compliant operating system overnight. She apparently has a major in engineering, but only for this one scene so the music can continue.

But why am I complaining about this plot when the main drive behind Sing is the music? And, yes, the musical numbers are stellar sequences of various characters singing all manner of melody, from piano solos to pop duos. It’s easy enough to see why so many licensed musical numbers are lobbed at the audience in a span of five minutes. I’ll admit I did fall for some of the charms of this ragtag group of entertainers shooting for the stars. I just wish I didn’t have to endure an awkward fart joke or a flooding theater set piece to get to that point.

One aspect of Illumination that never fails to amaze me is the voice direction. It wasn’t a huge surprise that Seth Macfarlane was voicing the Sinatra-singing rodent as he has the pipes for such a character, but I still found myself asking if that was really his voice considering his tone and delivery. I also forgot at times that Matthew McConaughey was voicing Moss, but after hearing his performance in Kubo and the Two Strings, I found myself longing for his more casual of voices echoing Dazed and Confused. He blends far too well into the scenery for being the protagonist.

Another element I slightly applauded was how tamed the studio was with their mascots. There are two recurring mascots in the form of a Japanese dog group that can’t stop singing and a swarm of squids that can change color to form a colorful lightshow for the stage. Unlike Illumination’s Despicable Me series, the movie never veers off into little shorts with these characters, possibly because there are already too many characters on screen. Perhaps the overnumerousness of this script may have worked for the benefit of not annoying parents to death with one repeating gag.

Sing has plenty of song, spirit and energy to be an admirable animated film, but not much character to become highly invested in the 9+ players. I suppose credit should be given for being one of the few animated films to cut out the middle-man and skate quickly towards the song and dance finale Illumination so desperately wants to barrel towards.

The musical sequences are enjoyable for their visuals and melodies and will most likely be enough to keep the kids and their parents entertained. So enjoyable that they may forget how manically paced this movie is as an excuse to animate singing and dancing animals. You can get those in any animated movie – Sing has the slight advantage of featuring the latest hits by the biggest voices.

Movie Reviewer Mark McPherson has been all about movies since working at a video store in his youth. His talents range from video editing to animation to web development, but movies have always been his passion to write about.

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