Animal Idol? The Wild Factor? Generic Music Competition Title?
Happy New Year! Fuck 2016! Hope you saw great movies last week, because I saw another damn Illumination project during my vacation. Now keep in mind, I don’t they make bad cartoon films…they just make consistently mediocre movies. My biggest gripe with the company is that they try so hard to cast the biggest names they could find to voice their characters and do little to nothing to improve their writing or animation style. And while their last movie, The Secret Life of Pets, spent its time copying Toy Story; it would have made sense that Illumination was ripping Disney off again from their wildly successful Zootopia what with the anthropomorphic animals running around a city. But don’t worry, the creators of Despicable Me took no elements whatsoever from one of my favorite films of 2016. They just copied American Idol instead.
We’ve got Matthew McConaughey-hey-hey as Buster Moon, a koala who owns a failing theater in this city filled with talking animals dressing around like humans. Moon comes up with the idea to host his own singing competition in the misguided belief that an audience will allow him to pay back the bank on the overdue mortgage…and the overdue payments for stage hands…and the other parties Moon has paid to keep up his theatrical venture (FYI: Moon is never supposed to learn any lesson dealing with paying people back). Nonetheless, after Moon’s assistant accidentally promises way more money than Moon has available, six hapless performers each with their own backstories and narratives compete for a shot at a potential pay day.
Now here’s the funny thing, I actually liked several of these character narratives, it just would have been nice if any of them were given time to be fully fleshed out. Instead, we get to follow Moon go through his financial troubles which is not nearly as interesting as it sounds. It also doesn’t help that Moon isn’t particularly likable. Oh sure, you’ve got Matthew McConaughey doing his best to inject as much charisma as he can that it seems believable that other animals would follow him on his crazy scheme, but it doesn’t distract from how conniving and manipulative of a character he can be. And the dumbest part about him is that he never gets a proper comeuppance or even develop an arc.
The other characters get more of an opportunity to make a transition from the beginning to the end of the film, and this is where Sing truly shines. You’ve got Taron Egerton (the main character from the awesome Kingsman), as a cockney-accented gorilla who’s also the son of a ringleader for a gang of bank robbers. He doesn’t want to rob banks all day, he just wants to
dance, I mean sing. Insert an uber-macho father figure that disapproves of his son’s life choices and bam, instant conflict. To be honest, I wanted to follow this character the most out of anyone else, but he’s essentially competing for a slot for everyone’s attention and it’s tough to do that when your costars have the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Seth McFarlane and Reese Witherspoon.
Witherspoon plays as a pig housewife with dozens of kids and an unappreciative husband, who just wants to prove to the world that she still has talent even if she lives her daily routine of caring for her several children. What’s odd about her story arc is that she negates any desire she might have for winning a cash prize in a singing competition because she essentially creates a line production facility to care for her entire family while she’s away rehearsing. Query #1: she basically manufactured an easy way to rear children (over the course of a single night without a wink of sleep), so why doesn’t she just market that shit and make tons of money? Query #2: why is she so hellbent on performing even when she’s paired with another pig (played by Nick Kroll doing an unrecognizable German accent) who’s far more interested in dancing than singing and she visibly doesn’t like his style. Query #3: do the German pig and Witherspoon hook up….sorry, Zootopia has been on my mind as where my innocent searches for film images that lead me to some insanely twisted monstrosities of fan art depicting inter-species sex not meant for the faint of heart.
Any who, Witherspoon’s character isn’t the only one with a whole mess of question marks. Seth McFarlane (doing his Ted the Teddy Bear/Peter Griffin voice) plays as a mouth with a penchant for Sinatra, and he’s really fucking good at it. Oh not the mouse, I mean McFarlane himself. I’ve known the guy has a true passion for the Rat Pack era of music, but to hear him sing “My Way” is a surprising treat to hear, even as he plays an absolute dickhead of a mouse. He’s vain, he’s greedy, and he’s absolutely full of shit by talking a never ending amount of crap about his competitors. Honestly, I was having fun with his character, but his role got severely cut in the film that becomes very noticeable in a lot of places where the characters reference stuff that happened without you witnessing them. Hell, McFarlane’s mouse doesn’t even get a proper ending, but he gets a straight up cliffhanger when there’s still seven more minutes left in the film.
Perhaps his role was cut in favor of Johansson’s rocker porcupine who gets betrayed by her boyfriend/singing partner. Again, she gets an interesting avenue to explore but curiously enough she gets the least amount of lines compared to all the other characters. Instead, Johansson’s main duty is to first sing catchy pop songs before she sings her character’s own original song (gotta get the Oscar consideration somehow when your musical is relying entirely on other people’s work). Johansson isn’t a half-bad singer and in fact has a cool, raspy voice; but her song is just “okay.”
And my lack of enthusiasm for the song permeates to everything else involved with this film. Not only is the script a miasma of unrealized potential that ultimately goes nowhere, but the animation feels painfully flat for a large portion of the run time. Twas a bad idea to release this after Moana came out and wowed me with its great songs and gorgeous visuals, because Sing sadly offers neither. The actual performances done by the animals are shot flatly while keeping them in profile most of the time until the very end when the movie decides to use a big stage for the final songs that’s really not impressive to look at.
And the music itself is just a film producer’s iPod playlist with particular repeats of “Shake it Off” and “Call Me Maybe” to bore a hole into your head once more. And if you’re humming the songs because I just mentioned them: 1) you’re welcome and 2) if I must suffer the fate of these earworms, then so will you.
Keep in mind, notice how I’ve avoided saying particularly awful about the film and that’s because there isn’t much to complain about. Simultaneously, there’s jack shit available to spur most people’s interest. Maybe if you’re more open to singing Top 40’s in your car or have a kid, then the movie is a pleasant if not exactly memorable experience. It’s fine, it fills the space and it’s the most frustrating goddamn thing to review. Because I can’t find things to adore in it and I can’t find things to despise in it. The curse of someone fond of hyperbole, I suppose.
Either way it goes, should you see Sing? If you’re an adult with no kids, this is a fine RENTAL to kill an hour and a half. But if you’ve got kids, take them to a cheap showing at the theater, cause this is a low…