What is it that we expect of a sequel? If characters from one movie return for a second, should what happened to them in the first matter? Can motivations from the original, motivations that put the entire plot of the first movie into action, just be completely and totally jettisoned? If Illumination’s “Sing 2” is to be believed, the answer to this last question is a resounding “yes!”
Written and directed by Garth Jennings (who also wrote and directed the original), this sequel finds koala and theater owner/manager Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) completely and totally abandoning the life long dream he held in the first film. We watched that first “Sing” and learned all about how, for his entire life, Buster wanted nothing more than to run his own theater and to make it a success. By the end of the film, he had succeeded. Naturally, at the start of the second film Buster opts to abandon the thing entirely, making it appear as the theater never mattered to him in the first place.
Yup, we may have a spent a whole movie where Buster did everything imaginable to make his lifelong dream a success, but by the start of this film, it’s no longer remotely relevant. Now, rather than being comfortable running a successful venue, he wants to take his acting troupe on the road to a Las Vegas stand-in and put on a show there.
The best explanation Jennings and company can offer up for this massive change in our lead character is… nothing. There’s no answer whatsoever.
One of the interesting things about “Sing 2” (or at least one of the interesting things surrounding “Sing 2”) is that this ignoring of the original’s plot feels consistent in a franchise heavily focused on music where we rarely actually get a full song. We get a plethora of snippets, there is no doubt about that, but just as with the first, “Sing 2” doesn’t want to slow down (or be perceived to slow down) long enough to give the performers their due and the audience what it deserves. It is vaguely maddening.
Further following in the footsteps of its predecessor, this isn’t a movie particularly concerned with examining characters or going in-depth with stories. Problems are presented and then, in the climactic moments of the film, and with little effort, they are overcome. So, Meena (Tori Kelly) has trouble pretending to be in love in her duet in the new big show and meets an elephant she has a crush on whom she can’t speak to, but realizes how to make it all work just in time to perform. Our mother pig, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), is terrified of heights initially and then wholly external forces arrive exactly when she needs to give her the oomph to beat her fear. New character and recluse Clay Calloway (Bono) is hesitant to return to the stage and miraculously finds the strength at exactly the right moment. The one character who almost has to work for it this time is Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla who can’t dance, but he finds a street dancer named Nooshy (Letitia Wright) who teaches him everything he needs to know in a couple of days. Sure, Johnny works hard for those two days but it is only two days.
If you’re looking for a villain this time out, that comes in the form of Mr. Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a Donald Trump stand-in to whom Buster lies horribly in order for the koala to get his way. Crystal is a bad man who deserves bad things to come to him, but that doesn’t make Buster right. “Sing 2” would rather not focus on such a thing however and instead thrusts Crystal’s daughter, Porsha (Halsey), front and center for a musical moment or two and some more comedy.
There is simply nothing that this movie can’t skirt around, brush past, or completely bowl over as it unspools. There is something downright depressing in the ease and cheeriness with which it accomplishes this feat. It is almost a message that if the audience out there can’t overcome the biggest obstacle imaginable with just a verse or two of a popular song playing in their head they’re doing it wrong.
Bright, cheery, and with no depth at all, “Sing 2” careens forward like an out of control supercar driven by Miss Crawly (Jennings). It isn’t that the movie lacks fun moments, it isn’t that it lacks some great songs. No, the problem is that it doubles down on the elements that didn’t work in the first film and reduces the weightiness of the central character’s story to nothing. Buster Moon may have done shady and wrong things in the first film, but at the very least we understood that he’d been pursuing that goal for decades. With that abandoned, this time out, he’s just after the latest bright and shiny bauble, seemingly having realized that the one he spent his entire life pursuing meant nothing. The koala is in fact a charlatan and he may have taken us in the first time, but we shouldn’t allow him to do it again.
photo credit: Universal Studios