CAST: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Pharrell Williams, Nick Offerman, Letitia Wright, Eric André, Chelsea Peretti, Bono, Garth Jennings, Adam Buxton, Jennifer Saunders, Peter Serafinowicz, Julia Davis
RUNNING TIME: 110 mins
BASICALLY…: Buster Moon (McConaughey) and his ensemble attempt to stage their most ambitious production yet…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
It isn’t surprising that Illumination’s Sing, like virtually all of the animation studio’s outings, was an enormous box office success (it grossed $634 million worldwide against a $75 million budget, and currently ranks fifth on the company’s all-time biggest hits), despite the movie itself working with a rather generic talent-show script. What is surprising, however, is that the sequel – not very creatively titled Sing 2 – is by all accounts even thinner and much more noticeably manufactured than the original, and yet is so much more memorable and entertaining, even if it’s in an ironic sense.
British filmmaker Garth Jennings, who was behind Son of Ranbow and the underappreciated big-screen adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, returns to write and direct the animated sequel, which picks up as koala stage manager Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) leads his ragtag troupe of performers – including singing mother pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), rocker porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson), shy teen elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), piano-playing gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), and pig dancer Gunther (Nick Kroll) – to the flashy Las Vegas-like Redshore City. There, he hopes to wow ferocious wolf mogul Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) enough to give them all a chance to perform in the city, but Crystal isn’t interested – until he hears the name of legendary lion rock star Clay Calloway (Bono) being touted as starring in their show, and allows them to put together a hugely ambitious sci-fi rock opera under the assumption that Calloway will indeed feature. Unfortunately, Calloway has become a recluse since the death of his wife fifteen years prior, causing Buster a whole heap of problems as he tries to put on the best show possible.
Sing 2 is essentially more of what the first one was, except it’s – in old-fashioned sequel terms – bigger, bolder, and with noticeably more money thrown at it (an extra $10 million has been added to the budget here, raising it to $85 million). You can tell that a lot of that extra cash has been spent not just on the large roster of A-list voice talent both old and new, with the latter camp also including Pharrell Williams, Letitia Wright, Halsey and Eric André, but also on making this animation look as stunningly photo-realistic as possible (while still having enough left over for the rights to several pop numbers performed throughout). The animation in Illumination’s movies has improved ten-fold over their recent catalogue, but here it’s simply astonishing to look at, from the heavily detailed fur on its numerous animal characters, to the lighting and camera angles that are so precise and stunning that sometimes you’d swear that a live-action cinematographer was actually brought on board to film it all in person. There’s a lot of craft and care that’s gone into making this film look absolutely beautiful, which given that Garth Jennings is primarily known as a live-action filmmaker makes it feel more realised than your average animated sequel.
As pretty as it is to look at, don’t expect many improvements to have been made in the script department, where the plot is once more rather predictable and streamlined, and the characters are mostly thin with barely more than one personality trait. It’s one of those animated movies where you recognise the characters only by who’s playing them, from Reese Witherspoon as the pig Rosita to Scarlett Johansson as porcupine Ash, and Jennings’ script struggles to give each and every one of them something to do just to make their major inclusion feel like a good investment. As such, you’ll have sub-plots that see the likes of Taron Egerton’s gorilla Johnny struggling to learn very strict choreography, or Tori Kelly’s elephant Meena combat the nerves of performing a romantic duet on-stage, many of which just feel like they’re there instead of really adding anything significant to the main storyline. The voice actors certainly sound like they’re having fun in the recording studio, but ultimately they’re characters who don’t completely leave much of a mark.
That is, except for Bobby Cannavale as the film’s antagonist, wolf media mogul and hotel owner Jimmy Crystal, whose contribution to Sing 2 alone makes the movie a lot more memorable than it has any right to be. This Trump-like character (he even comes with his own Ivanka-esque daughter, played by Halsey) is so over-the-top evil that at one point he actually threatens to throw our protagonist Buster Moon off the roof of his 100-floor hotel when things don’t go his way. It makes things surprisingly intense, introducing actual stakes that you simply wouldn’t expect to see in a major animated film for families nowadays, but it pays off because the writing and vocal performance for this villain is so deliciously overdone that it makes for some genuine entertainment for some of the more cynical adults in the audience (younger kids, though, may be overly intimidated by this bad guy, and understandably so; by all accounts, this character actually attempts to murder our main character throughout the entire third act).
While neither Sing movie is particularly strong enough in the writing department to warrant such big-name stars and excessive budgets, there is still a charm to their manufactured showmanship as these CGI animals sing popular tracks to some inventive, and often gorgeous, visuals, with enough moments of heart and soul to justify their appeal to families. This one, in particular, is certainly a victim of over-indulgence, but it contains some extremely memorable moments that make it more worthy of a repeat watch than its predecessor, and certainly help make it a tad less forgetful this time round.
Next up for Illumination is that Mario movie they’ve been developing for years, and if the animation in Sing 2 is any indication, then we’re in for a gorgeously photo-real visual delight that should distract everyone from Chris Pratt’s casting.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Sing 2 is a bigger and more excessive follow-up to Illumination’s smash-hit which still doesn’t have a solid enough script or set of characters to be amongst the stronger animated musicals out there, though the rather stunning animation and an amusingly over-the-top villain do make this one a tad more memorable than its predecessor.