Sing Sings!

The latest animated tale from Illumination is a ‘let’s put on a show’ story that weaves over 75 songs – most well-known – into the story of Buster Moon’s last gasp attempt to save his run down theater.

With a sparkling voice cast (everyone performs their characters’ songs) and a heaping helping of wit and charm, Sing is unexpectedly great fun.

With creditors dogging his steps and the bank about to foreclose, Buster (a semi-charming koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey) decides that holding a singing competition is the just the ticket to save his beloved theater.

He gets his secretary/assistant, Miss Crawly (co-director Garth Jennings) – an aged iguana – to print up posters. Instead of the $1000 prize, though, a mishap with her glass eye results in the poster reading $100,000.

Unsurprisingly, the next morning, there are hundreds of would-be singers lined up to audition.

After whittling the competition down to a handful of finalists – Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a mouse with great jazz chops; Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig with twenty-five kids and an oblivious husband; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine with an attitude (and a jerk of a boyfriend); Eddie (Taron Egerton), a gorilla whose dad runs a criminal gang, and Gunter (Nick Kroll), a flamboyant German pig who sings and dances – Buster has to improvise dramatically to keep the show going (having the electricity turned off is just one of his problems.

And then, there’s Meena (Jennifer Hudson) – an elephant with a magnificent voice and terminal shyness – who fails her audition and becomes a stage hand to be part of the show.

Each contestant has a unique backstory – most of which work amazingly well (especially Mike’s street musician/hustler life; Meena’s family who exhort her to overcome her shyness and sing, and Rosita’s ridiculously hectic family life – which spawns some very cool invention) – and each has a very specific kind of style.

The fun comes in seeing how this wildly diverse group deals with life – in rehearsals, on stage and in life in general. And the music…

Sing features songs from dozens of artists ranging from Michael Jackson to Drake, from Donovan to Sinatra. MacFarlane does a killer My Way and Hudson absolutely crushes the Beatles’ Carry That Weight – just as two examples.

The film finds a clever way to use a character called Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders; Jennifer Hudson, singing). She was the act that lit the torch for Buster’s love of theater and plays a key role in the second half of the movie.

The entire film is a paean to live theater – and musical acts of all kinds – and nowhere is that clearer than with Buster who, through thick and thin (and even thinner), somehow pulls it all together.

My schedule forced me to attend a 2D screening of Sing, but it was pretty easy to see that the 3D version could shine. The animation is up to Illumination’s usual standards and the writing (by Jennings) is sharp and witty.

Jennings and co-director Christoph Lourdelet tell their story with precision and charm. Sing could have been just another jukebox show (albeit with talking animals) but turns out to be the good kind of silly romp.

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Photos courtesy of Universal/Illumination