One of the cool things about 2016 animation is even the middle-tier animated films haven’t been that bad. I’d say films like Storks, Secret Life of Pets and Trolls have all been base hits where the top-tier have been home runs. This stands in contrast to last year where the middle-tier films bombed like Minions and Home. Well, you can add another solid base hit to the 2016 line up with Illumination’s Sing. This isn’t a great movie and I will totally understand the inevitable critiques but I walked away having a good experience.
I got to see Sing as part of a special screening last Saturday meant as kind of a Black Friday weekend promotion. The trailers have not been great for Sing so I went in with low expectations, which may have helped it a little bit (I’m not the biggest Illumination fan). Nevertheless, it ended up being a fun morning at the movies.
Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon who owns a struggling theater that he got after being inspired by a show as a child. He develops a plan to save his theater by hosting a singing competition- ala American Idol type show. This attracts a wide array of characters from a housewife pig with 25 kids named Rosita, to a cocky gambling mouse named Mike, to a gorilla who doesn’t want to be in his Dad’s gang named Johnny. All of these characters love to sing and we see their story play out within the course of the movie.
There are some things Sing really does right. First of all, I liked the characters. It would have been easy to make this a story of angsty teenagers who want to be stars but this has a wide range of character types that are explored better than I expected. Rosita was my favorite. I mean how often do we get a tired, ignored housewife character in a film aimed at children? I thought her arc was really sweet.
I also liked Ash the punk-rock porcupine who has allowed her talents to be brushed aside by her pushy boyfriend. Meena, a shy elephant who knows she is talented but lacks the guts to perform, was also a really nice character. I am sure many people can relate to all 3 of these characters.
The other win for me in Sing was the music. Marketing for the film boasts 85 songs in the soundtrack. I can’t even imagine how expensive the licensing for Sing was but most of those songs are extremely brief. The actual full songs with verses and a chorus I thought were pretty well done. The singing is good and as the movie is about the struggles and dreams of singers they worked to further the story- not just as filler like in movies like Trolls.
This song by Tori Kelly ‘Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing’ was one of my favorites.
Scarlett Johansson gets an original song as Ash and I liked that quite a bit as well.
Some people might not like the music but this is just my taste (it’s my blog after all) and I liked it. And I thought it fit within this particular story with these characters. I certainly thought all of the music was as good as Try Everything from Zootopia, which I also liked (Sing is going to suffer in comparison to Zootopia but on this one level I think it wins).
Now there are some definite problems with Sing. First of all, the base story is super contrived. We’ve seen the ‘save the farm, save the school house, save the theater’ plot device a million times and it feels a little tired here. The story is also extremely predictable but the ending still felt satisfying I guess because I liked the characters so much. It also feels a little over-stuffed with tons of characters auditioning and given songs/story time when I just wanted to focus on the characters I liked. In addition, the humor can be very hit and miss within the film.
The animation is also nothing to write home about. It is standard generic cg animation. There is nothing like the world building or character designs we get in Zootopia or Moana. It works but it feels rather pedestrian. I’d like to see Illumination take more risk with their animation and dazzle us with something new like the hybrid animation did for Peanuts Movie.
The other big problem has to do with some of their character choices. As I said a gorilla named Johnny wants to be a singer. His father runs a gang and he can’t understand why his son wants to be a singer. All of this could have been fine but given the current racial tensions I thought it was in poor taste for them to make all the gang members black. There is even a rival gang and guess what they are? Brown bears…
I wish they had followed the example of Secret Life of Pets and made the gang a variety of animals.
Still, none of these downsides were deal breakers for me. I walked out humming some tunes and having an over all good time. It’s not a movie I will remember in 5 years but not every movie has to be. This is just an enjoyable base hit with some sweet characters and nice music. I enjoyed it.
Overall Grade- B (just a bit lower than my youtube review)
ps. shouldn’t a koala have an Australian accent? Hmmm…