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'Sing' Can Be Silly, But It's Still Fun

While it may seem like an odd comparison, Sing is a lot like Peter Jackson's deranged puppet production, Meet The Feebles.


Director: Garth Jennings
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane
Rated: PG
Studio: Universal
Year: 2016
UK Release date: 2016-12-21 (General release)
US Release date: 2016-12-21 (General release)

Where have you heard this before: animated movies are only as good as the stories they tell and the characters used to tell them. You can add in all the 3D enhanced CG spectacle you can afford, but without a story your audience can relate to and characters they can appreciate, it's just so much empty eye candy.

For decades now, Pixar has been the primary provider of many seminal animated classics using this very formula. Sure, the studio adds in imagination and wit, but for the most part, we remember Toy Story for Woody and Buzz, or The Incredibles for the fascinating Parr clan. Heck, just say the name "Bing Bong" or "Nemo" and watch the reaction from both parents and their kids.

Now, it's unclear if families will have the same response to Buster, Rosita, or Ash, but they should. While not Pixar perfect, Sing is an engaging entertainment. It also offers up a set of characters that anyone can relate to, each one bearing narrative baggage that turns them from pop culture riffing retreads into actual, CG breathing people -- sorry, anthropomorphized animals.

Yes, we are in a world like Zootopia where there are no humans, just koalas and mice and pigs and porcupines, among others. Speaking of the cute little Aussie, Matthew McConaughey voices the beleaguered Buster Moon. He owns a theater, and thanks to several less than successful productions, he's on the cusp of complete failure. In order to save the day, the gentile little koala comes up with a singing competition. He's even offering a $1k prize to the winner (money that he doesn't have, naturally).

When his assistant, Ms. Crawley (Garth Jennings) prints up the flyer announcing the contest, her wobbly glass eye accidentally changes the $1k figure to $100k. Suddenly, there's a line out the door to audition, with critters like the put-up pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) with an uncaring husband (Nick Offerman), a wannabe mouse crooner named Mike (Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane), a punk porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) and Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with stage fright in the mix. There's also a skeptical business partner (John C. Reilly), a mobster (Peter Serafinowicz) and the standard llama banker (Rhea Pearlman) looking to foreclose.

While it may seem like an odd comparison, Sing is a lot like Peter Jackson's deranged puppet production, Meet the Feebles. Sure, it lacks the future Lord of the Ring's master's miscreant touch and R-rated debauchery, but the idea of animals putting on a show and providing the kind of backstage dramatics we've come to expect from such a film are followed here as well. This is a movie about two things: jukebox tunes, and the complicated interactions between participants. Both end up being very satisfying -- not flawless, but fun nonetheless.

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This is Garth Jennings first animated film, and he seems comfortable in the category. Previously, he made the flawed adaptation of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the clever coming-of-age throwback Son of Rambow, but Jennings got his start in music videos, as part of the team known as Hammer and Tongs, and he knows his way around a tune. Having worked with such acts as Blur, REM, and Radiohead, he brings that same sensibility to the various numbers featured here.

The soundtrack is dense with recognizable tracks. We get yet another version of the late Leonard Cohen standard "Hallelujah", a slice of Taylor Swift ("Shake It Off"), some old school Elton John ("I'm Still Standing") and even older Sinatra ("My Way") among others. The covers are clever and winning on almost every level and when combined with the characters, they make for an engaging experience. According to sources, there are close to 80 pop hits featured here, though many are only heard in brief snippets.

About the only thing one can say about Sing that sounds critical is that it tells a story we've heard dozens of times before. We even mentioned a Peter Jackson novelty that borrowed a bit from the narrative cliché, but it worked as a naughty novelty. From Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland's "let's put on a show" sentiment to the current crop of reality TV talent shows, Sing borrows. Perhaps it borrows a bit too much, but not enough to seem wholly unoriginal.

Besides, with a cutesy character design and lots of one-off moments, this movie is fun. It's not up to Pixar, but when you consider the others films made by Illumination, it's right up there with this Summer's The Secret Life of Pets. So what if it's not an intricate art statement? Who cares if the characters are a mere step away from being cookie cutter? Does it matter if the movie's not an aesthetic masterpiece? The one thing Sing doesn't do is struggle. It's effortless end-of-the-year entertainment that will surely be remembered as the calendar turns to 2017. It's a bit fake, but a whole lot of fun.


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