2016 has proven itself to be a great year for the animated feature film. From KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS to KUNG FU PANDA 3 to THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS and ZOOTOPIA, audiences have been treated to a large variety of animated stories and most have effectively delivered the goods. Now, Illumination Entertainment gives movie-goers SING, the final animated outing of the year and even though it isn’t as strong a contender as most of the rest, it still delivers enough entertainment value to have everyone leaving the theater with a big smile on their faces. A film that starts off strong, only to lose some momentum at about the halfway mark, it effectively regains focus during its final act to ultimately give audiences a satisfying movie-going experience. Continue reading for our full SING review.
Wanting to capitalize on the success of television shows such as “American Idol” and “The Voice,” writer/director Garth Jennings and co-director Christophe Lourdelet have fashioned together a story that encourages people of all ages to never give up on their dreams. SING takes place in a city filled with talking animals, many of whom have very real dreams of stardom. The plot is rather simple and centers around a delusional theater owning koala bear named Buster Moon. He’s a character defined by his love for show business, a love he’s had since seeing his first live show as a small child. In fear of becoming a disappointment to his late father’s memory, Buster refuses to give up on his struggling theater even though audiences have stopped buying tickets. Don’t worry though, our furry little hero has an idea to boost sales and he’s going to put on a singing competition to draw in audiences. Unfortunately, when Buster’s secretary, an old green iguana with a glass eye that refuses to stay put, accidentally distributes the flyers announcing the contest with a typo in the prize amount, saying $100,000 instead of the $1,000 that the Koala can afford, Buster is met with a long line of eager animals ready to audition and a problem to solve.
The film itself starts off strong as we get a montage of different animals auditioning for Buster. They sing some already familiar pop songs (everyone from Christopher Cross to Beyoncé are represented) and mostly for comic effect. Jennings and Lourdelet keep everything light, with the right amount of drama to keep it all moving along at a nice pace. They effectively make sure that even the smallest characters are given their own individual personalities, so that even though there are a lot of animals represented, nothing gets repetitive. Eventually, five finalists are chosen to move forward to the actual performance night and this is where the film truly begins.
As the story moves forward, the plot itself seems to fade into the background and become relatively unimportant to the filmmakers intent. Instead, it works more as a tool to introduce us to a small cast of characters and their own individual stories. Matthew McConaughey lends his voice to Buster, giving him a certain amount cool. He provides the character a true “never say die” attitude while also showing some real vulnerability when needed. The characters passion, charm and unflinching want to succeed is infectious and really drives the story forward.
Though it’s clear that the film is Buster’s to lead and the story-line of putting on the contest to help save the theater is what moves everything forward, the film as a whole really works as more of an ensemble piece. Each character has their own individual story to tell and they are all given their own time to shine. Reese Witherspoon is wonderful as Rosita, a Pig who has given up her dreams in order to get married and raise a large family (and trust me, it’s a large family). She still pines for the spotlight and feels as though she needs to give it one more shot. Then there’s Scarlett Johansson who voices Ash, a porcupine who plays backup to her boyfriend in a band, but wishes for so much more. Johansson gives Ash a wonderful vulnerability which eventually mixes with a growing strength and determination that audiences won’t be able to withstand rooting for. Taron Egerton also shines as Johnny, a gorilla struggling with a choice to either chase his dream or follow in his father’s footsteps. His story is one that many dreamers will relate to as it’s so hard to go after something as difficult as a life in show business when everyone around you just wants you to get a real job (even if Johnny’s Dad’s real job is stealing).
My personal favorite character though is a mouse named Mike. Voiced by Seth McFarlane, it’s a real turning point in his career. Known for the more vulgar sense of humor he gives to shows like FAMILY GUY and AMERICAN DAD, McFarlane is definitely acting with restraint here and the character is better off for it. He plays the part of Mike perfectly. A character who is truly into himself, McFarlane gives Mike a sleazy quality that is both egotistical and charming at the same time. He is a character that everyone is going to want to hate, but will be hypnotized into loving.
As well as the characters may seem to work within their own little stories, there is really one major flaw that holds the film back in it’s second and third acts. It’s that there is no real substance to any of the relationships. As all of the animals rehearse for the big night there seems to be no real bonding among them. They never really seem to relate in a way where they become like a family. Instead, they tend to work through their problems on their own. This causes a good portion of the film to fall flat, as the audience will want to see them all come together to help each other. Fortunately, the final act of the film really kicks everything back into high gear. When the inevitable performances that everyone has been preparing for begins, the tone shifts and gives the movie-going audience a real treat. Each performance has it’s own personality, so even though there are quite a few musical numbers to be shared, they never feel repetitive. Instead, they lift the film up to a level of entertainment that will have audiences forgetting about the story’s flaws and leaving the theater unable to remove the smile from their face.
One last note. Like another film that was released earlier this year, TROLLS, SING utilizes the use of popular songs as opposed to original numbers written specifically for the movie. Fortunately, it works perfectly in SING, because it really fits the tone of what the main story is. When we watch talent shows on television, the contestants are always singing tried and true hits, making it a perfect direction to go, in a film about that world. The music also adds a certain element of fun to the movie, especially since the cast of voice-over actors are all singing the songs themselves. With over eighty tracks being sung, mostly in small bytes, the filmmakers take advantage of the familiarity that the audience will have with them to make the musical moments fun, moving and all around entertaining. Mike’s version of “My Way” is especially memorable.
The story of SING is nothing new and the animation is average at best, but it’s the characters that really shine. Starting with a fun and fast paced first act, the film does lose its way as it becomes a little too predictable and the characters don’t really connect in the way I would have hoped. Don’t worry though. By the time the final act comes to it’s rousing conclusion, audiences will be glad that they decided to give SING the time needed to prove itself as a good time at the movies.