Written & Directed by Garth Jennings
Music has been, is, and forever will be an important aspect of the cultural landscape. As such, with the recent popularity of reality television, it has come into popularity to host singing competition shows, such as American Idol or The Voice, to gain an insight into current stars in music as well as give the “every man” a chance to make their dreams come true. I admit to liking these shows a great deal. I watched American Idol for many years before switching over to the fun format of The Voice. They are a great opportunity to tell very real and human stories of “people just like us” living their dream while also getting to enjoy some of the music we know and love. This combination has seen great success for many years, but even American Idol has recently folded after its stellar run. I wouldn’t be surprised if The Voice wasn’t too awfully far behind.
So then, at the tail end of this singing competition phenomenon, why has Illumination animation decided to release a film entirely centered on such a thing? Your guess is as good as mine. They are clearly capitalizing on the fad. In Sing, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is an enterprising theater owner whose establishment is dying a slow death. No one goes to the theater anymore. So when he gets the grand idea for a singing competition, hundreds flock to his theater to audition to make the final show after Moon’s secretary makes a clerical error, turning the prize money from $1,000 to $100,000. Will the talents of his new cast, a stay at home mom pig (Reese Witherspoon), the son of a criminal gorilla (Taron Egerton), an arrogant mouse (Seth MacFarlane), a punk teenager porcupine with a boyfriend problem (Scarlett Johansson), and a stage frightened elephant (Tori Kelly), be enough to overcome Buster Moon’s past failing to make his theater once again profitable?
After a bit of fumbling around, Buster Moon finally decides what will save his theater, a singing competition! When he pitches the idea to his “business partner”, who is really just a bum whose parents are rich, he oh so eloquently explains everything that happens to be wrong with Sing: “It’s been done before.” And yet the movie continues on in the same path afterwards. It’s as if the filmmakers are acknowledging the fact that their movie is unoriginal, unimaginative, completely derivative and tired, but their going to take your money anyway because they know you’re still going to see it, and probably even like it. And they’re not wrong. For every reason I wanted to hate this movie, for every moment where I cringed at how poorly executed, how poorly conceived, and how lazy the narrative manages to be, there were still moments that I enjoyed a great deal. That is the power of music.
That, however, is not the power of film. The problems I described above are still evident, and as such the film is buoyed only by its musical inclinations, but it is barely enough to keep the whole thing afloat. Moon is fairly unsympathetic as a failing businessman whose dreams failed to come true only through his own mishandling of his theater. Scenes of him fleeing his employees looking for a paycheck, or the representative from the bank looking for a payment only serve to vilify him more. Each of the contestants back stories are as flimsy can be. Their true motivations are only hinted at, and certainly never earned. The whole films builds to its musical climax, which is definitely entertaining and a worthy payoff, but I failed to see the point of it all by then. Why are the contestants still in the game? Why do they still trust Buster Moon? How in the world is Buster Moon the protagonist? In many ways he is the antagonist, always finding ways to screw things up.
Sing was just not endearing in any way, shape or form. It becomes overly dependent upon its pop soundtrack, inserting songs viewers will be familiar with as opposed to earning character moments on screen. It feels so much like a film capitalizing on the popularity of singing competition shows that are in vogue in reality television these days, adding little to nothing new or different to that landscape. The finale show soars, with some really nice moments, but the rest of the film is rather uninspiring. After great accomplishments with both the Ice Age franchise and the Despicable Me franchise, Sing stands as a disappointment for Chris Meledandri and Illumination Entertainment.