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'Sing', a second movie review

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A movie poster, showing the main characters.Sing (trailer) was Illumination Entertainment's second animated film of 2016, released in time for Christmas. With The Secret Life of Pets, the two films earned the studio $1.5 billion worldwide.

The DVD and Blu-ray came out in late March of 2017. It's a straightforward comedy with light story arcs and anthropomorphic animals, in which a koala named Buster Moon organizes a singing competition to save his financially-failing theater. By mistake, the publicity leaflets say the prize money is $100,000 instead of $1,000. For the rest of the film, things gradually spiral out of control, as he selects and deals with the five acts who will eventually take the stage at the end.

I enjoyed it! Although it didn't perform as well as The Secret Life of Pets at the box office, I liked it more. Partially because of the wider range of species - plus it didn't plug the Minions franchise as much - but mostly because it felt fun, didn't get bogged down in itself, and I liked the music.

In 2cross2affliction's Flayrah review, he didn't like how much of the sung music was recorded in a studio booth somewhere, instead of being recorded live. I had a similar lapse in my suspension of disbelief when I watched the horrid Disney-Bollywood animated film, Roadside Romeo. Dancing is a huge part of Bollywood films, and I remarked at the time, "I can't help but think that audiences were unimpressed when the computer made all the characters make the same moves. There's a lot less to appreciate if you compare it to twenty real people dancing together, knowing they've choreographed and practiced it to perfection."

But with singing performance - I didn't have any problem with the recording or acoustics of Sing. Did the closing acts sound too perfect? Maybe; I didn't care. Television competition shows like Got Talent and The Voice have shown great singers can emerge from anywhere, kind of like how Ratatouille made a similar point about cooking talent. It's sad that we live in a society where musical talent is often supposed to look good as well as sound good. An ugly-looking (but really great) guitar player has to shine particularly bright to catch attention away from an over-promoted, handsome hack who's fronting a boy-band.

Meena the elephant, wearing headphones.Story-wise, the expectation is that at the end of Sing, the ones who've made it to the stage are talented. You either believe that or you don't, regardless of personal musical preferences. That's why the audition part of the film exists, to create a wheat-from-the-chaff separation, and even then, some of the good acts still don't make it, like the frogs. (I was absolutely overjoyed that the auditions included a clip of musical anomaly Shooby Taylor!)

That's not to say I didn't have problems with some parts of the film - Rosita's home-made contraptions were really funny and creative, but hard to believe. That and Johnny's piano-playing showed a ridiculous amount of improvement in a short span of time. That last one is symptomatic of an issue with this film in general - with such a large, extended cast of characters, there's not much time to develop any of them.

As a result, the film is pretty formula. Don't expect deep characters. But you know what? That's ok, because they did the formula right. Sometimes you want a film to break patterns, make you think, make a statement... and at other times, they're fluff. This was a fun bit of fluff. I liked it - and so much music! Mostly short clips until the big end pieces, but if this film doesn't put you in some kind of musical mood after seeing it, then you need more music in your life. Cartoon Brew made a big list of what ended up in the film.

So, story and character-wise, nothing too deep, but there are some unexpected little touches and surprises here and there. The writing and the pacing are good, as is the voice acting. Illumination Entertainment likes to go for fast-paced jokes - they slow it down just a little in Sing, and don't get too low-brow. The visuals are colorful, good animation, though character design is a bit on the cartoony side. The animal aspects of the characters are used more for visual humor than for world-building. I was surprised that mice could drive big cars.

Eddie the sheep, sitting in a fancy restaurant.Various personal thoughts I had during parts of the movie (minor spoilers):

- Mike, the mouse, surprisingly doesn't learn any humility by the end of the film. In fact, he only shows up at the end because of his ego. The bears are presumably still out to get him. (Where'd they go, after the theater incident?) At least he fell in love.

- Buster Moon, as dedicated, optimistic and well-meaning as he is, really shouldn't be in charge of the theater. I hope that there'll be a board of directors to reign him in. His friend Eddie the sheep, was fun if underplayed. They make for an unexpected pair.

- I was really happy that Gunter and Rosita don't have an affair, although I wish Rosita's husband Norman had been a little more fleshed out. When Gunter and Rosita start their performance, you can feel the audience's awkwardness, expecting something amateurish - only to have their expectations blown away.

- Buster Moon's assistant, Miss Crawly, the iguana with the glass eye - I'm glad she wasn't always depicted as wacky and crazy. She has her little moments of kindness, such as giving piano lessons.

- When Johnny's criminal father has to leave before the police arrive, when he backs into the shadows, the theater's stage ropes cast shadows on him, suggesting prison bars. I really liked that bit of visual direction.

Ash, the snarky porcupine.- Personal bias: Sometimes, when I get over-exposed to an actor, I start to hate them. On the bright side, even after this bias kicks in, I have at least one film where I still like the actor. The better they can act, the longer it takes for over-exposure to affect me. (I'm starting to get a bit tired of Benedict Cumberbatch, but he's a great actor.) I'm well past my tolerance limit for Scarlett Johansson. And you know what? Her song "Set It All Free" was my favorite one from the film! In her earlier scenes with her boyfriend Lance, I had flashbacks to Rock & Rule, with Omar and Angel. I can understand how Lance felt insulted at Ash being chosen without him; but she was willing to take him along in her success - if he'd just waited! The sunglasses were a great touch. Also reminded me of Avril Lavigne's song "Sk8er Boi" in a role-reversal kind of way.

- With Meena the elephant, her stage fright felt very real. I'm glad they showed her working behind the scenes in the theater - it's something not often seen (outside renditions of Phantom of the Opera), and learning the tech side of production is a possible career path. Of course, her real talent was singing, and I'm even more glad she was given the chance to shine.

- I was expecting the scenes from this 30-second TV spot to be in the film, but they weren't included.

2cross2affliction's review also mentions the film's "bad timing" during the year. It was the opposite for me. I think the rendition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was really moving. What was awkward in the film for me - by accident, and the moment was fleeting - was someone's phone ringtone set to a George Michael song, who had died four days into the film's release.

But at the end of 2016, a rather depressing year, Sing was a fluffy popcorn film, with anthropomorphic animals, which didn't take itself too seriously. It was a much-needed pick-me-up, because most of all, it was a positive celebration of the joy of music, and that's all it needed to be!

Reporters interview Mike the mouse on the street.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 3 (2 votes)

Aw, it wasn't really a response to me; my ego is, of course, crushed.

But, yeah, basically how I felt around the time it came out, and if you're not subjecting it to (not entirely fair) rigorous socio-political scrutiny.

Kind of disappointed neither of us brought up the world-building aspects (or lack thereof), though.

Your rating: None

I do have to fight off the urges sometimes; my dad is a retired sociology prof. :-)

Your rating: None

Talking about Sing, The Secret Life of Pets, Rock Dog, The Nut Job 2, etc., has anyone mentioned Ozzy yet?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WF5oLKwfcZA

Fred Patten

Your rating: None

There was a link to it in a Newsbyte back in October, but that and your reply have been it so far. Ozzy got a limited release in Canada in late April, as did Ballerina (aka Leap) in early March, but I was too busy to catch either of them. :(

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