Warning: This review contains spoilers for Sing. Read at your own discretion.
If you’ve seen Zootopia and were disappointed in the lack of singing, go watch Sing. You’ll get the songs but not the in depth look at society told through metaphor or the interesting plot line and moving story. You’ll get animal karaoke. Maybe a few brief moments of quality animation. But in the vast choices of holiday movies this week, I’d skip this one.
Written by Garth Jennings and co-directed by Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet, Sing tells the tale of a koala bear named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who decides to put on a singing competition as a last-ditch effort to save his failing theater. A typing error declares a $100,000 award for the winner instead of the original $1,000 Moon has available, and animals of different species come in droves for their shot at the prize money.
It’s the film’s lack of focus that hurts it. We begin with Moon as he’s on his way to a lunch meeting to discuss his idea for the competition, but we soon leave Moon in transit for some introductions. Fast moving cameras take us through the city, zipping and zagging to various candid moments — Johnny (Taron Egerton) on a street corner, singing, a look-out for his father’s current crime of the day; Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), singing as she prepares breakfast for her 25 piglets; Meena (Tori Kelly) singing happy birthday to her grandfather; Ash (Scarlett Johansson) getting carried away in her boyfriend’s band; and Mike (Seth MacFarlane) loudly pronouncing he’s the best singer, ever, while playing jazz on a sidewalk. But each new moment, each zip to the next character feels unmotivated. It’s the obvious way to get to know who these characters are, where they’re at in their lives right before it’s about to change. But there’s no organic transitions, so the main players, even five minutes into the movie, already feel like stock characters. And now to spend an hour and half with them.
A B-story has undertones of romanticizing the theater, a quick flashback scene showcasing the talents of Nana (Jennifer Hudson), a starlet of old Hollywood, perhaps; the sentiment of the “good ole days” hard to miss. Except for a brief monologue from the older version of Nana (Jennifer Saunders) about her days in the theater, the idea is never fully realized. A shame, really, since the major climatic point of the film comes when Moon’s theater is absolutely destroyed by the eruption of a large water tank inside the theater. Admittedly, the scene is one of the better ones animation and direction wise — in the moment, it’s exhilarating. The earlier zipping of the camera is properly used this time as each character struggles to find their grip in the current, moving to each one of those struggles fluidly. However, the larger impact of such destruction is lost among the film’s indecision on which story it wants to tell. The one about the struggling theater owner who’s glory days are behind him, or the young hopeful singers, who’s glory days are yet to come?
Sing also suffers from the trend of telling too much of its story in its trailers. Each emotional catharsis is evident a mile away, and each one filled with a little too much sentimentality. There are successes, but they arrive much too fast and with little evidence they should have. Sing mostly just checks the boxes, and maybe does enough to be an okay film. It’s a tad boring, as well. And that boredom allowed to me always go back to the core question I had before seeing it — why do we need this film? I still don’t know the answer.