FILMS LIKE ZOOTOPIA and Inside Out have set a very high standard for computer-animated films in the past few years; both of them reaffirming that behind family-friendly stories and colourful visuals there can be a great deal of subtext that sometimes outshines the plot. And then when there isn’t too much going on beneath the surface, there’s humour and heart, as in the box office-conquering Despicable Me. But Illumination’s latest flick, the jukebox musical Sing directed by Garth Jennings, is only sporadically enjoyable, and instantly forgettable. It’s the sort of undemanding film you might watch on a long-haul flight as you tuck into a sausage that tastes like plastic.
The big-dreaming, theatre-owning koala Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey, decides that to save his debt-laden theatre he needs to hold an X Factor-style singing contest, which is where we meet the frazzled mama pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), the gorilla son of a gangster Johnny (Taron Egerton) and punk-rock porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson), among others. And that’s about all you need to know. It’s as if someone in a room somewhere all of a sudden stopped chewing the end of their pencil, clicked their fingers and said, ‘What if we make a film about a singing competition, but the singers – wait for it – are animals?’ It’s simple stuff.
Sing is funny in places–talking animals are nearly always funny, and computer animators can create the sort of physical comedy that’s impossible to replicate with actors–but the fact is I laughed harder during the opening credits when the minions introduced Illumination Entertainment than I did during the entire film
Sing is funny in places–talking animals are nearly always funny, and computer animators can create the sort of physical comedy that’s impossible to replicate with actors–but the fact is I laughed harder during the opening credits when the minions introduced Illumination Entertainment than I did during the entire film. The montage of the various animals singing is genuinely fun and the film’s best scene (the buffalo who sings Butterfly by Crazy Town really should have won the competition) yet the film is over-confident in your interest in watching a selected few animals doing glorified karaoke, and that novelty rests on your patience for chronically overplayed chart-toppers like Katy Perry’s Firework and Taylor Swift’s Shake It Off, and it wears off pretty quickly anyway. If the film is going to poke fun at shows like The X Factor, surely there should be room for an acerbic, Simon Cowell-esque wombat or something?
Sing has none of the sharp satire of Zootopia, nor the invention of Inside Out nor even the genuinely thrilling action of films like The Incredibles, though it has a crack at all three. It feels market-tested, and and the film even attempts to own its unoriginality. When Buster tells his sheep friend Eddie (John C. Reilly) about his plan to save his theatre, Eddie replies, ‘Who wants to see another of those?’
Young children are likely to like the singing animals and won’t worry too much about the weak plot. But for everyone else, Sing dines out on its ensemble A-list cast, the current trend for many-levelled computer-animated films and the enduring popularity of shows like The X Factor and The Voice. Like Illumination’s disappointing follow-up to the hilarious Despicable Me films, Minions, Sing is colourful and energetic and sporadically enjoyable, but it rushes from scene to scene, lacks in plot and ultimately, feels flat.