There’s something incredibly charming, bizarre and ridiculous about seeing an anthropomorphized pig flamenco dance to Gypsy King’s “Bamboleo” in a supermarket. Illumination Entertainment’s SING, from the creators of the Despicable Me franchise, relies heavily on these kinds of silly moments. Peppered with a combination of the past decade’s most popular pop tracks and a few random oldies (by today’s standard), the animated feature showcases an entirely animal version of what could be Los Angeles, and the star seekers living within the city limits. Focused on a singing competition put on by a financially-ruined Koala desperate to save his crumbling theater, the key animals of the competition each bring their own emotional baggage into the mix, their talent getting in the way of everyday responsibilities.

‘SING’ MOVIE REVIEW

Sing begins with an autobiographical narration of Buster Moon’s (Matthew McConaughey) romance with theater and his current ownership of a crumbling theatrical venue. Paired with his old and batty iguana assistant, Ms. Karen Crawley (Garth Jennings), Moon attempts to save the theater, now at the brink of financial ruin after a string of unsuccessful productions. Moon reaches out to his wealthy-through-parents friend, sheep Eddie Noodleman (John C. Reilly) to sponsor a singing competition.

Denied funding, Moon proceeds anyway, offering an award of $1,000. Thanks to a typo involving Ms. Crawley’s removable glass eye—a recurring gag—the reward is publicized to be $100,000. An ecstatic Moon auditions hundreds of wannabe stars, finding the five key animals in his show. Faced with the lie of the award, the show quickly goes off the rails, with Moon desperately trying to impress Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders), a former diva and his one shot at getting the money.

Director Garth Jennings bestows each wannabe starlet with human problems as well as talent. There’s Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig with 25 piglets and a neglectful workaholic husband; Mike the mouse (Seth MacFarlane), a Sinatra-inspired street crooner with a bad attitude; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a teenage porcupine with boyfriend problems; Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla who doesn’t want to follow the family business of crime, and Meena (Tori Kelly), a shy elephant with a voice like, well, Tori Kelly.

Scarlett Johanessen as Ash in SING

Scarlett Johansson as Ash in SING

The key five are introduced in a dizzying camera fly-over across the city, zooming into their lives and their individual struggles. In the desire to grab a little-bit-of-everything—and likely shove as much star power into the film as there are Top 40 songs (and there are many)—Jennings gives each hopeful their own story arc. Not only does this make the film drag through its second act, but keeps each character relatively unchanged come the final minutes, the exception being Meena.

A FILM FOR YOUNG CHILDREN

Ultimately, their storylines must fall into place with that of Moon’s, who refuses to let his dream die. In fact, it’s more accurate to say the world around the main characters and the beleaguered theater owner changes to accommodate them, to align with their dreams. Their conflicts solve themselves easily, and even Moon is bailed out at the last moment in an ending that seems rushed and unfinished after nearly two hours of meandering through Katy Perry covers and color-changing squid.

Somewhat ironic to the themes of optimism and never giving up, the problems Moon faces are hardly his own fault. Much of the climactic action is the result of McFarlane’s mouse letting his ego get the best of him, at the expense of his fellow contestants.  It is unclear whether children will walk away from Sing having learned anything other than that rabbits dancing to a Nicki Minaj song are funny and weirdly uncomfortable to watch.

There are some somewhat esoteric references that older viewers will grasp, like a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Beyonce’s infamous “Becky with the good hair” line, but Sing is ultimately a mess of hyperactive scenes meant for fairly young children. While the film attempts to address what happens when dreams fail, and the often crippling task of figuring out what to do next, optimism wins the day. If only the real theater world worked this way.

While colorful and full of physical comedy, the story gets buried under start-and-stop musical covers that push the runtime into an exhausting 110 minutes. Lacking the nuance and detail of Zootopia, the film’s clear point-of-reference, the adults in the room will also feel that they are watching cartoon people in animal suits, rather than fully explored characters.

Sing premiered on Dec. 21, nationwide.

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