Sometimes it’s impossible to dislike a movie. There are just some movies that, no matter how many problems they may have, are so winsome and entertaining that you—happily—overlook flaws because of the feelings. Sing is one such movie. Following up on the success of The Secret Life of Pets, Illumination has made a movie so exuberant it dares you not to like it. Sing, despite a legit rough beginning, has such a rousing, joyous ending it’s simply not possible to hold any of the movie’s failings against it.
Sing revolves around Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala who has dedicated his life to show business only to see his theater failing as he has never produced a hit show. This is McConaughey’s second voice role in an animated movie this year, following Kubo and the Two Strings. He says he’s taking on these roles to make movies his kids can see, and he turns out to have a knack for vocal performance. Buster is super cute and it is surprisingly easy to hear “past” McConaughey.
To save his theater, Buster decides to host an American Idol-style singing competition, and a mishap boasts the prize money as $100,000 instead of $1,000. Buster doesn’t have $100,000, but the movie is only intermittently concerned with that. Also, how is Buster supposed to save his theater with what amounts to a one-off show that requires a large cash prize? This is getting into George-Bailey-saving-Bedford-Falls-with-bad-mortgages territory.
No sooner than you start thinking about the completely illogical story mechanics, though, another song starts up and Sing pummels you into submission with sheer goodwill. It’s impossible to deny the charm of Sing when there is actual singing. The music ranges from Top 40 hits to standards, so there’s something for everyone—guaranteeing family-wide appeal—and all of it is performed by cute animals dressed like people.
Buster’s talent show includes Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a harried mother of twenty-five piglets who Rube Goldbergs her house in order to make time for rehearsal. Rosita has pipes but not much stage presence, so Buster pairs her with Gunter (Nick Kroll), a gregarious, Gaga-esque pig with a penchant for sequins. Then there’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla from the wrong side of the tracks (Egerton’s charisma is irrepressible even in cartoon form. It’s only a matter of time until the internet is completely obsessed with this guy); Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punky teenager porcupine; and Mike (Seth McFarlane), a gambling mouse who is just The Worst. Rounding out the group is shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), and Buster’s friend and nominal business partner, Eddie (John C. Reilly).
Most of Sing is thinly drawn sequences meant to propel us to the next song, so stuff like “character development” and “cohesive plotting” aren’t really the priority. Every time I started thinking about how Sing doesn’t stand up to examination another cute animal would burst into song and every lyric was, “The message is believe in yourself/Don’t ruin it for the five year olds/We just want to make you happy/Stop being such an asshole”. And when the animals sing, it’s impossible not to get into it. The musical numbers are all well done, and the big show at the end is just a joy.
While Sing is not a statement movie like Inside Out or Zootopia, it does have some nice messaging like “believe in yourself” and “follow your dreams”, and slightly subtler, there is some nice stuff about competition and good sportsmanship. The animals are in a competition, but they encourage and comfort one another, and no one is sabotaging anyone. Mike is rude, but he also gets washed down a sewer, so the point about being polite gets made. At its deepest level, Sing says that you can compete and still be friends, you can want to win and still be supportive.
Written and directed by Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow), Sing has some great comedic moments—Miss Crawly the decrepit lizard is a hoot—but really, it’s the music that makes the movie, especially the last half hour when the talent show is staged. Don’t be surprised if people in the audience clap and cheer after each performance like they’re happening live. Sing plays fast and loose with the story, but emotionally it hits all the right notes. (Couldn’t resist).