There are few animation studios which can cut a trailer together like Illumination Entertainment can. Unfortunately, outside of the “Despicable Me” movies, the finished products are increasingly failing to live up to the hype.
When Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) realises his theatre is in financial trouble, he comes up with a sure-fire scheme to save it: a talent contest. Unfortunately, Buster’s elderly assistant Ms Crawly (Garth Jennings) accidentally adds a couple of extra zeroes to the competition flyers and so the city’s inhabitants turn out in their droves for a chance to win the big cash prize.
Set in an anthropomorphised world which looks and feels like a bland suburb of “Zootropolis”, “Sing” certainly isn’t short of ambition. It sets up a veritable menagerie of allegorical animal-folk whose different backgrounds and stories briefly promise to overlap and intertwine in a rich and rewarding way before they…just sort of don’t. Instead, each storyline ambles through the film without much sign of inspiration or intent to deliver a satisfying narrative.
And it’s in its story that “Sing” is most out of tune. It has at its disposal, one of the starriest casts in the history of animation and in its selected target of singing competitions, a target ripe for satire and subversion. The problem is, “Sing” finds itself with nothing of note to say about singing competitions at all. In the era of “The X Factor”, “American Idol” and “The Voice”, “Sing” offers no critique, no sly lampoonery, no witty observations. It’s not even particularly adept at explaining just exactly how Buster’s idea of staging a singing contest was going to save his theatre in the first place.
The animation is solid and the character design cute and appealing but the characters themselves are largely tick-box exercises. Nobody learns, or grows, or changes organically. A few characters do have changes of heart or flip-of-a-light-switch epiphanies when narratively convenient but some of them remain obstinately unaffected by events, even when every storytelling fibre seems to scream of the need for some kind of redemptive arc. Seth MacFarlane’s odiously arrogant ‘rat pack’ mouse is a perfect example of the laziness of the writing. The soundtrack is overloaded with too many song choices, each one so achingly obvious that even the musical director for “Homes Under The Hammer” would roll their eyes.
If you’re content for your animated movies to simply keeping the kids quiet for an hour and a half then “Sing” will be perfectly adequate. But with the Pixar’s and Disney’s showing that animated movies can be fun and entertaining yet still be insightful, layered and inspirational, “Sing” starts to look very lightweight indeed. Unfortunately, thanks to their cunning counter-programming, “Sing” like “The Secret Life Of Pets” and “Minions” before it will rake in the box office receipts and all three have sequels announced for 2019-2020. Hopefully, by then, Illumination will have worked out how to create characters and stories which do their concepts justice.