Sing Review [TIFF 2016]
Sing will have you dancing in the aisles while animated critters cover your favorite hits, even if its emotional notes read like the most basic chord progression. Piggies sing Katy Perry while a pinstripe-suit gangster mouse croons his best Sinatra, all so children can enjoy another re-enforcing tale about following your dreams. It’s a great message paired with an entertaining premise, all of which are tied together with as much silliness and musical puns as you’d expect. You’ve got a stellar cast, dynamite pipes and a googly-eyed lizard secretary who always finds herself in crazy senile antics – what more can you ask for? (Don’t answer that.)
Matthew McConaughey lends his voice to a starry-eyed, theater-owning koala named Buster Moon. Times are hard for Mr. Moon, with bankers pounding on his door and audiences not showing up. All he needs is one hit to save his theater, which is how he comes up with his next grand event – a singing competition with a $1,000 prize that’s accidentally advertised as a $100,000 bounty. The false number draws a host of local talents, including mother Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), lounge mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane) and a not-so-criminal gorilla named Johnny (Taron Egerton), amongst others. So begins the shaping of Buster’s dream team, who are hopefully good enough to keep his doors open for good.
Right off the bat, we’re introduced to each main player’s committed genre. Rosita gives us a tease of Katy Perry’s “Firework,” Taron Egerton boasts his more “natural” vocal talents and punk porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson) rocks out with her egotistical boyfriend – these are our first tastes of bigger musical productions to come. The more practice each talent gets, the grander their performances become. On this front, Sing is a definite accomplishment in digital choreography and stage showmanship, as many of the song performances are applause-worthy affairs. Tori Kelly might be the scene-stealer of Buster’s collected finale roster, but Johansson’s original ballad is a definite high-note, while MacFarlane would turn heads with his pint-sized rendition of “I Did It My Way” if we didn’t already know he was a noteworthy songster. No interlude truly struggles (no Walken surprises from The Jungle Book), it’s just that some pop with a bit more pizzaz than others.
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Animation wise, Illumination and director Garth Jennings build a bustling, Zootopia-like metropolis that’s less interesting than the characters involved. The only setting that matters is Moon’s lavish performance venue, as suburbs and cityscapes blend together in typically vibrant coloration. Inside offices and training areas are where we spend most scenes, until visual artistry gets an uptick when neon-glowing squids swim around Buster’s jury-rigged aquarium stage to provide “natural light.” Once those aquatic lightbulbs start floating in synchrony, Sing briefly enters a realm that other animated films spend much more time in – a short reprieve from regularly polished animation that certainly does the job, albeit without going above and beyond.
In analyzing only story, we’ve seen it all before. An overwhelmed housewife who chases the life she once dreamed of – check. A misunderstood son being forced into a family profession he has no interest in – double check. A nervous stage-frighter, the ignored relationship partner, Japanese red pandas who blast J-Pop and bounce around like synchronized firecrackers – OK, well, maybe all but the last example, who are the highlight of Sing for me – but you catch my drift. There’s nothing that’ll move you to tears or conjure up some deep, revelatory epiphany, which works just fine for a children’s film of this ilk. The little ones still get some more nudging towards embracing individuality, along with some hugs, comfort and “BE YOURSELF!” support that’s always good to reaffirm.
My complacency with Sing should be taken at face value, and still as a recommendation to catch Garth Jennings’ singy-dancy comedy in any form. In the theater, on television – however you watch Sing, you’ll have a blast. Running purely on super-piggy power, this collection of performances showcases talents you might not have otherwise known (Egerton, most of all), along with mainstays who have slayed a crowd time and time again. It’s simple, pure joys in the form of personified animals and their secret talents, like a #1 hit you sing along with on your radio for an energetic little daily pick-me-up.
Sing runs on some serious super-piggy performance power, even if the emotional notes are expected.