Written and directed by Garth Jennings, director of Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Sing, is the latest film from Illumination pictures, the same animation studio behind Despicable Me, Minions and the previously reviewed Secret Life of Pets films and much like Secret Life of Pets, this was advertised well in advance of its release. Sitting on the rise of the cusp of the Oscar nominations and despite the fact it had two attempts to get an Oscar nomination, it’s failed to receive any Oscar nominations, though, granted the Anime feature category this year is very strong and the 5 films nominated are all excellent (though I’m still annoyed that Your Name hasn’t received a nomination). Sing was advertised as basically being like Zootopia meets The Voice. In fact, when I first saw the trailer for it I thought it looked very much like Zootopia, though for the two films to be released at this time there couldn’t possibly have been plagiarism since both films would have to have been developed over a similar time period. The thing is though, the only reason I am reviewing this is that this is the only thing that really interested me this week. I couldn’t be bothered with Trainspotting 2, though I will try to give my brief thoughts on that in future reviews, since I will see it before the end of the year. I don’t feel that much attachment to the original Trainspotting so I’m not too bothered if Danny Boyle will get this one right or not, even if he gets it wrong I know he has got another great movie in him so I will just wait for that one. Everything else that came out this week I wasn’t too keen on reviewing plus I reviewed virtually every Anime film that came out in 2016 so I figured I should try to do the same in 2017. So, does Sing kick off the year of Animated film pretty well and keep up the standard from 2016, or, is it this just a case of another Juke Box musical that isn’t for me.
Sing’s plot revolves around theatre owner of The Koala, Buster Moon (played by Matthew McConaughey), whose theatre is going under after a series of poor shows, so as a last ditch attempt to keep it running he decides to hold a singing competition. After going through several auditions he is down to several finalists. Pig, and mother of 24 Rosita (played by Reese Witherspoon), the mouse busker Mike, (played by Seth MacFarlane), porcupine and rocker Ash (played by Scarlett Johansson), gorilla and son of gang leader Johnny (played by Taron Egerton) and shy elephant Meena, (played by Tori Kelly) as well as European pig Gunter, (played by Nick Kroll). Buster realises, that due to a clerical error by his secretary Miss Crawly (played by Garth Jennings) he now has a bit of an issue that the contestants think the prize is 100,000 dollars, so he must quickly raise the money to give out as a prize, whilst also holding the competition to save the theatre. You know that basic plot synopsis can sum up this film and it does sum it up pretty well. It doesn’t sound like this film is going to be very surprising or nuanced and it really isn’t, however, that’s not to say there aren’t any positives to this film.
For a film with such a large cast of characters I am actually amazed how the film balances all their individual story arcs and manages to give each character enough time to shine. I was expecting a couple of them to be left off the cusp, but in a lot of senses, they aren’t. I suppose you could make a claim that Seth MacFarlane’s character is kind of being pushed a bit to the side lines, but even then he is given a prominent part. Despite the fact that the trailer’s over emphasise certain characters, no one feels like they hog the spotlight too much. I also don’t think the trailers, especially the early trailers, acknowledged enough that Matthew McConaughey’s character is the main character of this film. Buster has had an ambition of owning and running a theatre since he was a small child and his story arc is largely the main focus of the film and he is also the character who everyone seems to interact with. What I am trying to say is that the film does know who its main character is and get the right balance. I am also fortunate enough to say that each arc is resolved by the end of it. Granted, most of them in quite a rushed fashion, but it’s still pretty dam good in that sense. It does, however, suffer from some real problems around the 2nd half of the film, mainly due to the fact that this film doesn’t have that much in the originality stakes. I’m not just talking about the fact that given the back stories of the reasons some of these characters have entered the competition could half be sob stories in the X Factor this year. A lot of people have said that this film borrows quite heavily from other plots in other films. I have seen this film rather frequently compared to the various Muppet’s films, for which various of them have had the plot of ‘save the theatre’ story line. However, this reminded me of a rather forgotten animated film called ‘Cats Don’t Dance’, which had a very similar premise although that film attempted to do a similar plot with a homage to classic Hollywood cinema and musicals of the Busby Berkley, Gene Kelly era, whereas I have already stated that this one is homaging singing contests of the current era, hence, Buster acting as a more tolerable Simon Cowell.
The characters for the most part are likeable, which moves the plot forward, with the exception of, Mike, but, for one, he is played by Seth McFarlane and two, he is deliberately written not to be likeable, so that’s hardly an issue on the film’s part, he actually does his job. I did, however, have a real issue with the fact that the film seemed to borrow from Cats Don’t Dance, which had the opposite issue of characters being all over the place, especially in a scene where the theatre got flooded which will be very familiar to anyone who saw the previously mentioned film. Now, again, I don’t expect the general public to make that comparison, since Cats Don’t Dance, I believe, was a flop and is one of those animated movies that will turn up on someone’s YouTube channel with “I bet you don’t remember this film existed’, the only reason I remember it is that I had the video of it as a kid. I think that despite the fact that it was a flop, I think you should give it a go because it is a half decent film, all things considered, especially as the film has a brilliant villain. Speaking of villains, that is another weak point for this film. This film has to forcibly add in antagonists by having some Russian bears, who are meant to represent the Mafia, go after Mike for money he stole in a rigged game of cards. Family friendly fun all around! These antagonists are added into the plot so uneventfully and so forcefully that they almost feel like they have been thrown in there to add a sense of conflict. You could make an argument that the animals that represent the bank are antagonists, but they are not in the film long enough to create an impact and there is very little to show they are actually, deliberately trying to sabotage the show. Also, this film relies on the ‘liar reveals’ story line, I think it does it about 3 times in the entire film, 4 if you count one or the other sub-plots, and here’s the thing, I don’t like this kind of storyline, it’s an awful storyline because it’s done to death and we all know what is going to happen! The characters will mope around for most of the 2nd half until one of them comes to an epiphany and rallies everyone together for the triumphant climax. I am sick to death of this, there are better ways to do this kind of storyline, it’s not necessary!!! In this film it all feels particularly forced, in fact I don’t even think one of them actually gets revealed to be a liar, they just go lying throughout the entire film.
That’s enough of the negatives. Let’s get back to a couple of the positives I had with this film’s plot. It wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. For one thing, some of the jokes are quite funny, even if a couple have been ruined by the trailer, especially most of the really funny auditions, although some of the funny ones have been omitted from the trailer. Not all the jokes were funny, after we get past the audition stage it feels like they are getting desperate to get a laugh. I also felt this film had a surprising ending which I wasn’t expecting it to go down, though, it further helped my comparisons with the various Muppet films and Cats Don’t Dance. However, it does kind of blow the plot at the same time, since one of the major driving forces of the film is almost taken out of the mix altogether, I won’t go any further than that for avoiding spoilers, I will just leave it at that. The plot is passable, that’s the best way I can describe it. I will give it credit, the characters each get enough time and are likeable enough to want to be around them. All the sub-plots are rather decent, although not too many of them have that much consequence since Buster Moon is the one with the most to lose. (I only saw it a couple of hours ago and I have only just gotten that joke, oh god, I am not good with word play). It’s an averagely written plot. It will do a lot for kids, but not as much for the adults, though, unlike Trolls there is at least something there for the adults, just not quite as much as a film like Zootopia.
The cast is very much as usual. Get as many celebrity voices as you can, there is a real all star cast here. The problem is, rather like a celebrity all star cast, you can tell who they are. Matthew McConaughey does put on a voice, but he seems to go in and out and almost retracts back to his typical McConaughey tone. I at least appreciate him trying considering that he has one of the most distinct voices in Hollywood, but he doesn’t entirely succeed. Reese Witherspoon does a good job, but again you can tell it’s her. Seth MacFarlane is basically doing a high pitched version of Brian from Family Guy and his voice should be recognisable to anyone who regularly watches that show, but him being in a kids film feels really bizarre, it’s almost like Robin Williams said, the reason he did a Jack Nicholson impression in Aladdin was because if was so unlikely Jack Nicholson being in a kids cartoon. Scarlett Johannson does a decent job as Ash, though I don’t think she sells the ‘rock star’ side to her that well, which is not too bad, is it? Tori Kelly is pretty decent in her role and I liked her. Taron Egerton, I stated a couple of years ago is probably one of my favourite actors working in Hollywood today and I am so glad he is getting parts, he does one of the best performances in the film and considering, this is, as far as I am aware, his first animated film, is saying a lot. I am seriously getting to the stage where I will go and see anything if Taron Egerton is in it. As a supporting cast, we have John C Reilly in the role of Buster’s best friend Eddie, who does a decent job, but despite him trying his best, rather like when he was in When Marnie Was There, it’s fairly obvious that it is him, but at least in When Marnie Was There, he wasn’t trying to cover up his voice since that performance called for his dramatic side. Jennifer Saunders also has a cameo as Eddie’s nanna, who is a potential investor and fans will recognise her instantly, since she is on the exact same accent she had when she was playing the Queen in the Minions movie, it’s almost like she is under contract with Illumination Pictures right now. There are a couple of voices where you won’t quite recognise who they are on first hearing them though. I wasn’t even aware that Big Daddy was being played by Peter Serafinowicz until very late on, he does a very good at disguising his voice. Nick Kroll is great as Gunter, whose is another one of the best performances in the film. Also, there is a very brief moment, at the beginning where Jennifer Hudson appears, which I didn’t realise until after I had checked the IMDB page. Overall, it’s a pretty decent cast, the only problem is they kind of succumb to the whole ‘make sure you don’t actually put on a voice so that everyone can tell what celebrities are in this film’, which is affecting a lot of modern family films.
Now for the animation. It’s fairly passable, it will be very recognisable to anyone who has seen the Despicable Me film’s and The Secret Life of Pets. Illumination Pictures seems to have a very distinctive style that they want to stick to and are not changing from it. I have stated in the past that I think it’s passable, but doesn’t quite live up to what Disney Pixar and even Dreamworks are putting out, but it’s decent.
That, however, is not where my big issue lies with the production of this film. My big issue is the soundtrack. The soundtrack is easily the worst part of this film. Now, it’s a Juke Box film, I knew that going into it, however, it has a very similar problem to Trolls in that, the majority of them are songs that you wouldn’t even want to hear by the original artists, so why would you want to hear rank amateur’s sing it!! Again, most of the characters have specific musical styles to pick. There are a couple of one off characters, like the Tuniki bears that reflect Japanese Idol music, which is a gag that is repeated way too much, seriously, it was funny the first one or two times, by the 5th time, it got really grating. Mike is obviously into big band and swing music because he is played Seth MacFarlane and that’s all he ever wants to sing for some reason. Scarlett Johansson is given more rock oriented songs since her character plays Electric Guitar. Tori Kelly is a typical teenager and is given those sort of, soft teenage ballads that girls that age couldn’t possibly have any context to know about the meaning of that song having not had enough experience in life to get the meaning. Reese Witherspoon is partnered with Gunter so they are given songs that are more dance heavy, which I have always found cringe worthy on talent shows and Taron Egerton is given songs that rely heavily on Piano, particularly ballads, hence why two of the songs his character sings in the film are by John Legend and Elton John. The problem is that the majority of the songs are from the last 5-6 years top 40, which is going to instantly date the film horribly, especially considering that I am fairly certain that several years down the line, these songs are going to be rather forgettable. Yes, we all remember Call Me Maybe right about now, but I guarantee you, in about 10 years time, no one is going to remember that song! In fact, I think there are a few where you think, I know that song, but can’t remember its name because I never wanted to listen to it!! A few of the songs are decent. I can count on one hand the song I would have on my I Pad and off the top of my head, or I have purchased in some fashion and even then, the only 2 I can think of was, Jump by Van Halen, which was very briefly in the film and at a stretch Elton John’s I’m still standing, and even then I only got that because it was part of a package I bought for my game of Rock Band. Granted there are some songs that the parents will be aware off and at least they didn’t take any really good songs and butcher them like in the previously reviewed Trolls, since some of the re-mixes are fairly decent. Scarlett Johansson and Taron Egerton are probably the best of the bunch in terms of pure technical ability, unless they have had someone swap out for them, in the sync department, so if that is the case, praise goes directly to them. However, the latter is given some of the worst songs to work with in the film, with the exception of the aforementioned Elton John song. I don’t care what anyone says, I am sick of hearing that John Legend song everywhere! This is my personal taste and I think most people will like the soundtrack, however, I will say on a pure technical point, this soundtrack is going to be dated and I am afraid that even the people who like this film and this kind of music cannot deny that.
Sing is an average movie. I can’t say it’s a good movie, I don’t want to call it an ok movie, it’s just feels like a movie that is just there. At the same time, I don’t think it was that bad, on a technical level it does quite a few things right, it just doesn’t entertain me as a whole. I wasn’t upset when I got out of the cinema and didn’t feel like I had wasted my day. It a film that makes me feel conflicted. I would watch it again over watching anything of this year’s X Factor or The Voice or listen to any of the “tripe” records that come out of shows like that. It’s a film that is reflective of its time and I suspect it will age poorly, particularly with the era of most of the songs on the soundtrack. I have no reservations in giving it a recommendation for families to go and see it, you could do a lot worse than going to see this film. However, I would also urge people, if you are reading this around the time of this film’s review being reviewed, that if you have a choice, maybe skip it and go and see Lego Batman and I suspect that film is going to be better. I am putting my neck out there since at the time of writing this review, I haven’t actually seen it. Don’t think I will revisit this film, but it is alright.
So, what did you think of Sing? Please leave me a comment down below about it and remember, if you want to submit your own content to our site, visit our ‘how to submit’ section, which goes through the various rules. We are already intrigued by what we are getting and it’s really boosting our interaction with you guys, which is everything this was intended to be.
Thanks for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and for crying out loud, if you haven’t already, don’t go and see Resident Evil, The Final Chapter, show Paul Anderson that were are not all sheep that will go and see anything that has our favourite game on it!!!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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