Genre: Comedy and Musical Running Time: 1 hr. 48 min.
Release Date: December 21st, 2016 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings Actors: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Jennifer Hudson, Leslie Jones
ver since attending the theater as a child, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) dreamed of producing his own plays. And as an adult he accomplished this goal – just not with monetary success. After a string of financially ruinous openings, Moon Theater and its ambitious owner are on the verge of bankruptcy. With few options remaining, Buster concocts a last-ditch attempt at a comeback by staging a singing competition with a cash prize. But a typo in the advertising flyer raises the bounty from $1,000 to $100,000, drawing hundreds of contestants from all over the city. As the diverse group of finalists – including bank robber-in-training Johnny (Taron Egerton), overworked housewife Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), aspiring rock star Ash (Scarlett Johansson), street performer Mike (Seth MacFarlane), and painfully shy singer Meena (Tori Kelly) – all practice tirelessly to perfect their debut performances, Buster must face insurmountable odds to keep his venue open.
“Sing” is, obviously, a computer-animated, child-oriented picture. This makes it only natural that the characters are all depicted as cute, friendly-looking animals. But there’s something off about the use of animals as a complete substitution for humans; they’re not merely interacting in a world of anthropomorphized animals, but existing in a specifically human habitat, wherein the only non-human items are the characters themselves. The houses, the cars, the streets, and the infrastructure of this setting are essentially Los Angeles, which makes the animal identities all but irrelevant; they’re humans hiding behind the illusion of animal faces.
Instead of translating to something funny, this turns into something uncomfortably racist; the different animal species are distinguished almost solely as separations for ethnicities and economic classes. Even the disparity of land animals and sea animals is only used for one or two brief visual gags; it’s the dialect and the costuming and the social circles that largely define each species. If every character were replaced (or reverted back to) human forms, it would have virtually no impact on the story – which demonstrates how meaningless the use of animals is in the first place. Plus, nothing spoils good-natured fantasy like the human problems of lovelessness, jealousy, greed, and crime.
And then there’s the story. It’s not just one overarching storyline, but several smaller pieces that all have disconnected, individual conflicts and resolutions. And most of them are pointless. Mike the mouse begins as a street performer, but then morphs spontaneously into a poseur and a card sharp, willing to pawn his misdeeds onto anyone in his path, even if it could possibly lead to violence or death. It’s a completely unnecessary and mean-spirited attitude that began only as a cocky, vagabondish musician. Eddie (John C. Reilly) has no real use, save for a handy helper during times when Buster needs a favor. And Norman (Nick Offerman) is the overworked, nine-to-five, dead-end office employee, who eventually learns to appreciate his wife as a sexual being and as a mother of 25 piglets. And those are just a few of the background characters given worthless screentime; the major players in this ensemble assemblage are involved in the most generic premises imaginable – from shyness hindering talent, to low self-esteem, to premature quitting, to living up to a father’s expectations (a la “The Jazz Singer”).
If it weren’t bad enough that the story exists solely to string together a series of song-and-dance performances (like the semifinals of “American Idol”), the characters are mostly unsympathetic. Buster is actually the least agreeable of the bunch (he’s introduced by running away from paying money owed to stage hands), having been given everything from his father instead of earning it, allowing the business to crumble, betraying everyone who accidentally rejuvenated the theater (if only momentarily) while also attempting to convert them into profitable acts rather than letting them be themselves, and, finally, physically destroying nearly everything he had left. At one point, he even steals electricity and water from the neighboring building.
Additional roles include criminals, which will surely summon little pity, and a teenage girl who seems blindly faithful to her clearly scummy boyfriend. Most inexplicable of all is the lack of redemption for any of these parts – particularly Buster, who predictably has everything turn out all right, but without exerting any real effort of his own (at least his “rock bottom” moment is hilariously pathetic). The songs that play at a rate of nearly one every minute are fun, particularly with the focus on varying styles, but they’re notably dated; it would be a comprehensive (and likely expensive) soundtrack of modern pop, except that songs like Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” are already a few years old. The fact that the entire lineup consists of covers of other artists’ works is also underwhelming. It’s downright laughable to think that “Sing” is supposed to reinforce the “inspirational” or “transformative” nature of a mere talent show.
– The Massie Twins