Illumination Entertainment, the team behind the Minions, branches out into the world of all talking-dancing-singing creatures great-and-small, mashing that up with the wildly popular phenomenon of singing competition reality shows. The result, “Sing,” is an amusing riff on genres, a “Zootopia Idol,” if you will, and it comes as a surprise that someone hadn’t thought of this combination already.
But while the film takes its introductory cues from shows like “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “X Factor,” with an all-too-brief audition montage that is jam-packed with truly wonderful moments (a water buffalo crooning Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”? Twerking bunnies? All that and more), it transforms into an old-school backstage musical that celebrates the magic of putting on a show.
Matthew McConaughey voices unscrupulous theater owner Buster Moon, a koala with a passion for the stage and some seriously overdue bills on the mortgage for his beloved Moon Theater. He’s a scrappy, lovable, ever-optimistic guy — and eternal salesman — who believes that when you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up. His buddy Eddie (John C. Reilly), a slacker rich-kid llama, is a soft touch, but even he is done investing his parents’ money in Buster’s misguided productions.
Buster lands on the idea of putting on a singing competition, and soon fliers are picked up by every aspiring vocalist in town, lured by the promise of a $100,000 prize (which Buster doesn’t have). But Buster is thrilled by the crop of talent he turns up, including mother of 25 piglets Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), who belts Katy Perry with the best; mouthy mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), styled straight out of the Rat Pack; porcupine rocker chick Ash (Scarlett Johansson); British gorilla crooner Johnny (Taron Egerton); and German techno-rave pig Gunter (Nick Kroll).
Each singer has his or her own personal story and obstacles to overcome, and the plot feels overly busy, frantic even, as we zip around, checking in on Rosita’s struggle to balance raising her kids and following her dreams, Ash’s relationship problems, Johnny’s desire to break free of his father’s gang of robbers, etc., etc., on and on. There’s even the story of painfully shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), who’s helping out the show until she can muster up the courage to show off her remarkable pipes. It’s a lot to take in, but writer/director Garth Jennings keeps it all on the surface.
As the competition starts to crumble, bearing the pressure of too many dreams and not enough resources, the singers start to realize it’s not about the prize money but about their tight-knit group getting together to show off their talents for whoever will watch, wherever they can. They learn that the most important lesson is to share their gifts and find their voices.
The soundtrack is full of well-known crowd-pleasers, deep cuts and a truly catchy original song, the pop-rock number “Set It All Free” sung by Johansson as Ash. The combination of pop music and cuddly animals will prove to be an addictive combination for children and adults alike — kids were up and dancing in the theater as the credits rolled at a recent screening. It’s a cute movie with genuinely funny moments (keep an eye out for the koala car wash), and some great tunes to boot.
Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes
Rating: PG for some rude humor and mild peril
In general release