The Universal Pictures release, “Sing,” is a jukebox musical animated movie, featuring 85 classic songs and an original song by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande (“Faith”), and depends upon a classic story in an anthropomorphic world that could be Los Angeles.
The musical genres has something to please everyone, including Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” and Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.”
The movie centers on koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who owns a theater that once was glorious during the hey-day of the glamorous reclusive and very rich sheep Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders). Now his operation always seems to be in the red. Buster’s new idea is to hold a singing contest with a prize of $1,000.
Buster’s best friend happens to be Eddie Noodleman (John C. Reilly), Nana’s grandson, so you can already tell where this is going.
Buster’s piano-playing assistant, a green iguana Karen Crawley (Garth Jennings), has a glass eye which pops out once too often, but at the beginning of the movie, loss of her eye causes her to type in $100,000 instead of $1,000. After photocopying fliers, Karen accidentally lets the wind carry them all away.
The auditions bring crowds beyond Buster’s expectations and he whittles the contestants down to an overworked pig who has 25 piglets to care for, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon); Rosita is pared with the flamboyant German-accented pig Gunter (Nick Kroll); the punk rocker crested porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson) who auditioned with her unfaithful boyfriend Lance; wiseguy white mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane) and a Cockney-accented mountain gorilla named Johnny (Taron Egerton) whose father Big Daddy (Peter Serafinowicz) is a heist gangleader and has his son driving the getaway car. An Indian elephant Meena (Tori Kelly) has a great voice but also tremendous stage fright and only joins the show as a stage hand.
Although Buster becomes aware of Karen’s mistake, he’s determined to have the show go on and scrambles for money, but his efforts leave the theater in shambles. From the ruins, of course, a show rises.
Directed by Garth Jennings and (“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) and Christophe Lourdelet, “Sing” could have been streamed down and the mountain gorilla gang story along with the mobsters after the mice make too many bad guys for one musical movie. The story could be streamlined. It is overstuffed as if they needed to make room for everyone’s favorite song.
Illumination Entertainment also released “The Secret Life of Pets” this year and it seems that the best parts of that convoluted story were on the trailers. This is also true for “Sing.” The most successful movie out of Illumination has been the 2010 “Despicable Me” which has become a franchise with the 2013 “Despicable Me 2” and “Minions.” Less successful was the 2012 “The Lorax.” “Sing” has a proven score to bolster its appeal, but still the story lack originality and a cohesive message about telling the truth.
What has bothered me since seeing this movie is that again Asians, specifically East Asians are the butt of a joke. A group of red pandas (an animal found in China and Nepal) are the cute, non-English-speaking group who are too stupid to learn English while singing Japanese pop songs. Did the Jennings think he was giving a nod to fans of K-pop, J-pop and C-pop and didn’t bother to tell the difference? Japanese students start taking English lessons in elementary school and these continue throughout junior high and high school.
Perhaps it is too soon after the Oscar night fiasco although this project had been in development before that. Yet there are other people (Andrea S. Moore writing for Revelist.com, Commone Sense Media for Washington Post and a commenter on Variety) who expressed concerns about racial stereotypes in “Sing,” but about the gorillas as thugs and criminals.
Should we be concerned? Maybe it’s worth talking about. “Sing” has been nominated for two Golden Globes (Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song).