since 2010’s Despicable Me through to this year’s The Secret Life of Pets. Sing, sadly, sees the roaring creative engine under that hood slow to an idle purr with the occasional throaty rev. Also, coming at the tail end of a year where there have been far superior humanimal animations in theaters, Zootopia specifically, and just more effectively constructed animated movies period, it already faces a number of hurdles even before the opening credits roll.
Sing is about a koala named Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey, who has one final chance to restore his theater to its former glory by producing the world's greatest singing competition with an accidental grand prize of $100,000.
Among the contestants who make the grade are Reese Witherspoon’s housewife pig, Rosita; wise guy mouse Mike, voiced by Seth MacFarlane; Scarlett Johansson’s lovelorn teen porcupine, Ash; Meena, a shy elephant with a mean set of pipes, voiced by Tori Kelly; reluctant gangster gorilla, Johnny, voiced by Taron Egerton and Nick Kroll’s flamboyant pig, Gunter - he alone should be a mine of comedy gold but feels far too restrained.
It’s a motley crew of characters brought to life by an interesting and eclectic team of voice talent but the material they are given isn’t funny enough and the characters aren’t full enough, adorable or engaging enough to make the audience care. McConaughey’s Moon is almost there but not quite, so you end up not really caring if he succeeds or fails – you want to care but it’s hard work. Even the supporting cast that includes John C. Reilly as Moon’s laid back buddy, Eddie, who also happens to be the rich kid son of Moon’s business partners; Nick Offerman, British comedy icon Jennifer Saunders (whose character’s singing voice is provided by Jennifer Hudson) and Leslie Jones can’t give it the heart, warmth and wit they and everyone involved is clearly striving for.
The biggest laughs mostly come from the film’s director and writer, Garth Jennings, who also voices Moon’s elderly, and slightly inept, assistant, Miss Crawly. She is, by some margin, the most fleshed out and engaging character of them all. It’s here that Jenning’s flair and creative brilliance shines as he embraces some of his British heritage and channels touches of Fawlty Towers’ Manuel and Julie Walters’ Mrs Overall into her befuddled existence.
The grand finale delivers what it should, crowd-pleasing belters that will get you tapping your whatever and leaving you with a smile on your face, but it also makes you wonder why some of that verve and spunk couldn’t have been injected into the rest of the film. When the creativity shines and it does succeed in stirring an emotion, Sing is fun and it is never anything less than likable but, the rest of the time, it stays stuck on being good and falls short of being great.
As a director, this is Jenning’s first film since Son of Rambow but this, as a whole, doesn’t display a fraction of the warmth or creativity or heart of that, his previous feature, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, his video work with the likes of R.E.M., Blur or even his recent promotional short for H&M. While Sing looks good and ticks boxes, it is a disappointingly average piece from the Illumination team and from Jennings himself.
Despite a valiant effort, Sing hits more bum notes than high ones and it feels sadly flat. It looks good and the cast all give it their best but it just doesn’t hang together as well as it should. Sometimes all a film needs is heart to help other things fall into place and this lacks that. Sing is fun but it’s not funny enough or engaging enough to fully live up to its promise before the credits roll. There’s a great film in amongst it all, but this isn’t it.