Movie Review: "Sing" (2016)

If you have watched any of the trailers for “Sing,” you have been, as you would be for any movie, conditioned to expect certain things from the film. In this case that’s a whole lot of animated animals singing pop sings new and old. Wouldn’t it be great if that’s what “Sing” actually was?
I don’t think this is one of those cases where the trailers lie about a movie – those scenes where bits of songs are sung in the trailer are in the film, they just don’t make up the bulk of the film, and mostly it’s just those bits of the songs.

To be clear, there is singing, and when the characters are allowed to belt out songs in full rather than snippets, “Sing,” which is written and directed by Garth Jennings, is great. Mostly this occurs in the movie’s finale, and it is a great finale. It is a finale so good I applauded the film when it ended despite having been distressed by everything that came before it.

To set it all up, the film follows the tale of Buster Moon (Matthew McConnaughey). Buster has harbored a dream of running a theater (stage, not film) since he was but a wee Koala and he’s had his opportunity. His dad bought him the place (via his father’s carwash job) and in the intervening years, Buster has run the theater into the ground. He has staged bad productions and/or staged productions badly. His last ditch effort to try to save his theater is a singing contest that goes horribly awry (this would be the contest around which the film is focused). And so the movie follows the contest’s finalists as things go from bad to worse for all participating.

Rather than giving us a single involved story for any one of the individual finalists, be it the overworked pig mom (Reese Witherspoon), the gambling mouse crooner (Seth MacFarlane), the punk teen porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) who is getting over a breakup, the gorilla son of a thief (Taron Egerton) who just wants to sing rather than commit crimes, or the elephant (Tori Kelly) who is too embarrassed to actually be in the contest, “Sing” chooses to offer up skin deep tales of them all. Where this year’s “Zootopia” thrilled with the mechanics of how a world populated by so many different size and shape creatures might actually work, “Sing” just has the audience go with it. These are different movies from different studios and not some sort of combined world, but it still feels as though “Sing” is building off of “Zootopia.”

And, it isn’t. It isn’t the fault of “Sing” that “Zootopia” hit theaters earlier this year and spent time brilliantly explaining the logistics of such a world. It also isn’t the fault of “Sing” that Leonard Cohen just died and that the version of “Hallelujah” sung by Kate McKinnon on “Saturday Night Live” in November was so much more poignant and powerful than the one offered up in a major moment in “Sing.” The filmmakers could not have known as they were planning the movie that they were going to be late to the party.

But, guess what, those things happened and, unfortunately, they make “Sing” weaker in comparison. It’s that thing from the “Lass is More” podcast again about movies and television not existing in a vacuum but rather in conversation with the world.

This, combined with the weak stories, and dearth of full songs make “Sing” feel like a pale iteration of what it is so close to being. It is a shame because “Sing” is brilliantly animated. Early in the goings-on, to introduce our finalists, the movie offers these incredible, fast, traveling shots taking us from one portion of the city to the next. It is fantastic, a brilliantly high energy, clever, way to start things off. It just doesn’t keep going in that manner.

In its most jubilant moments, “Sing” is absolutely everything you want it to be… absolutely everything I want it to be. But, those moments are too few, too far between, and too short-lived to make “Sing” a crashing success. I still want to buy the soundtrack because the track list is amazing, I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that what it gives are the full songs and not the snippets that are in the movie.

photo credit:  Universal/Illumination Entertainment

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