Reviewed by John Hussey
After much reservation to see this animated film, due to my in-depth views on modern day animations and how the majority of them pander too much to small children (thus detracting the engagement of the narrative and creating uninteresting characters), I finally gave in and watched Sing. And I’m guessing you want me to answer whether or not I agree with all the acclaim this animated film has been receiving? Yes, and no.
Sing is certainly a lot better than I originally gave it credit for but it’s certainly not in the same league as Zootropolis. On the back of the success of the Minions, Illumination Entertainment have certainly made a name for themselves and have secured a stable future for themselves from merchandising alone. But I wasn’t fully invested in watching their latest feature on the account of I only actually like one of their films, being Despicable Me 2. Despicable Me was okay but failed to stand-out, whilst Minions became one of my most detestable animated films of all times, whilst The Secret Life of Pets was just meh. So excuse me if I’m not in a hurry to put myself through more endless disengagement.
But like I said, Sing was better than I originally thought and at least attempted to have a stable narrative with interesting characters. I think one of the main reasons I wasn’t interested in this animated film, besides my lack of faith in Illumination Entertainment, was its premise, i.e. revolving around a singing contest. I really detest the current popularity in reality programming and its sickening influence over what should be produced by television companies. With shows like The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, The Voice, to name a few, almost taking priority whilst decent shows that show signs of promise and originality get cancelled in replacement for meaningless and insulting reality crap that panders to an audience without taste and imagination.
So forgive me if I wasn’t ready to go see a film in which stands within a genre that has lost its status, is made by a company that I don’t trust, and centres around a system that infuriates me. But brushing aside all that negativity I began to see some actual potential, which led to some actual enjoyment. Regardless of whether I really enjoy a character, or hate a character (to the point where I want to reach into my television screen and choke the life out of them) still means I have some sort of attachment to them. For better or worse, I grew attached to the colourful cast of characters within Sing.
Lead character Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) owns a theatre, following his dreams from when he was a kid after his father took him to see his very first play. After he’s met with serious debt issues Buster decides to open up a new performance in order to earn back his reputation. This involves starting up a singing contest, to which he tries to pull in multiple acts with the promise of a $1000 reward. But this doesn’t quite go according to plan as comedy relief character, Ms. Crawly – Buster’s elderly assistant, accidentally messes up the promotional fliers by stating the prize will be $100,000 instead.
Unfortunately for me I have a problem with films in which I really dislike the protagonist. Buster’s characterisation drove me up the wall on multiple occasions as he was extremely selfish throughout. He constantly showcased he was trapped within his own little bubble where his dreams were the only thing that mattered as he did whatever he had to in order to keep them alive. I hated how he thought he was a “somebody” when he clearly wasn’t. I think he failed to see the reality of his own situation and constantly found childish solutions around his problems.
Upon finally being faced with reality his tone changes and Buster becomes an even bigger ass through sulking. Oh no, just because your dreams didn’t succeed doesn’t mean you have the right to descend into a self-loathing state in which your problems mean more than anybody else’s. You either try again or find something else to do with your life. I suppose it’s simply a clichéd addition that you’d expect by now from an animated film, but in this case it just makes me hate Buster more than I should. It really got to me when he had the nerve to crush the dreams of one of the contestants, who was desperately trying to overcome confidence issues, just because his sad-existence plummeted. He had no right!
The contestants, thankfully, create the bulk of the film as you follow them on their journey to become performers. All of them (besides Gunter) have an engaging backstory as to why they want to win the competition. And what adds to this is the line-up of stars that lent their voices for this project. We have Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) who’s a workaholic housewife that appears to get no appreciation for all her hard work, which is really depressing considering she has to look after a ridiculous amount of children, take care of the house duties, whilst being a respectful wife.
Come her participation within the competition she is allowed to really express herself and holds a great voice for performing. What she lacks is the ability to dance, but come the motivation of her dance partner Gunter (who is an optimistic and bubbly German), and the other contestants, Rosita builds-up the confidence to excel at what she loves and we get to see a whole different side to her. Rosita isn’t just a housewife and her progression throughout the film showcases she’s worth something more. I also found it really inventive that she managed to build a pulley system around her house to act as a substitute for her daily chores whilst she’s at the theatre practicing.
Then we have Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) who’s a teenager desperately wanting to progress her career as a band with her boyfriend Lance. But it’s clear from the beginning that she wants to really excel herself but Lance constantly tries to deflate her potential by lowering her status to a backing singer. When she’s given the chance to perform in front of Buster he decides to give her a chance at singing solo, which causes a wedge with her Lance.
This becomes a tragic journey for her as Lance continually becomes a massive a-hole by discrediting her talent (which is clearly better than his ego will give her credit for) before finally hooking up with another girl, causing Ash to have a breakdown in one of her rehearsals. Another thing that bothered me the most about her story was Buster’s constant interference with her nature, trying to force her to become a pop-princess instead of the badass rocker that she clearly was. But in the end she proves everyone wrong by writing her own song (which isn’t actually original) and performing it for the final show.
Next we have Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton) who’s a young lad trying to find his place in the world and eventually tries to become a singer but this is conflicted by his father, Big Daddy (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz), who is the leader a crime gang. Big Daddy acts as the father who doesn’t see what his child wants in life and instead pushes them to be a spitting image of themselves. Johnny manages to find his inner voice and even learns how to play the piano. It’s great that with Johnny the film tries to be a little bit more realistic and adds a challenging message, whilst also finding the time to fit in some funny moments, particularly with Johnny trying to balance out his two existences.
Following that we have Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly) who is a teenager that has a clear gift when it comes to singing, something her family are proud of, but sadly isn’t progressed due to Meena’s confidence issues. Her nerves get the better of her when she’s on stage and ultimately results in her losing her chances of taking part within the contest. Later on she tries again, at the encouragement of her grandfather who wants to see her succeed, but Buster (in his delusional world) believes she wants to be a stage-hand. Thankfully she is given another chance to shine, resulting in the rare moment where Buster actually does something nice by giving her the confidence to be able to do the thing she loves.
And finally we have Mike (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) who’s an egocentric, and somewhat aggressive, jazz singer. His character clearly stands out from the rest of the contestants as his motives are purely selfish, as he constantly declares himself better than everyone else whilst also mocking his fellow contestants. Mike is certainly a major douchebag and it doesn’t stop until right at the end when he actually acknowledges that Meena has a great voice when performing. But before that he leaves the show on the account there’s no longer any prize money and doesn’t see the value in performing for the sake of having fun.
The only reason he participates is because he wants to prove that he’s talented and earn his spot in the limelight. His character adds another layer of maturity by having him a gambler that ultimately gets himself deep with the sharks and is pretty much threatened with death if he doesn’t pay them back. I agree completely with my partner’s views about Mike, in which she said, “I only like Mike because Seth MacFarlane voices him, and had he been voiced by anyone else I would’ve hated his character.” MacFarlane is a talented guy and known for his wide-range of voices within Family Guy, American Dad and films Ted and Ted 2, but even I sometimes found it hard to excuse Mike despite McFarlane being the voice.
Sing certainly does well with is cast and actually surprised me with how well they were utilised. They all gave a great performance and continued the Hollywood trend of giving unlikely actors a chance to sing and ultimately excel at it. Even the addition of John C. Reilly and Jennifer Saunders (though sadly don’t sing) was much appreciated, each adding something to the animated film.
It’s narrative was pretty decent as it followed these different characters on their individual journeys, with Rosita trying to be appreciated, Ash trying to showcase her identity, Meena trying to overcome her confidence issues, Mike trying to escape a group of thugs, whilst Johnny tries to win over his father’s acceptance (particularly after he caused him to land up in prison).
Things go terribly wrong when the theatre eventually crumbles to the ground at the most important moment, prompting Buster to undergo the arc that I mentioned earlier. But the film throws in the motive of “do the things you love despite the obstacles you may face” which results in the contestants trying to convince Buster to snap out of his period of depression. What finally snaps him out of it is witnessing Meena sing and reminding himself of his original desires and how much they meant to him. They then build their own makeshift stage and go on with the show.
Though at first it doesn’t attract much attention, the show eventually becomes a massive hit and all the characters achieve their goals. Rosita finally gets the attention she deserves (after Norman leaps on stage and passionately kisses her), Ash shows off her talents and proves to Lance she has what it takes, Johnny finally gets the respect from his father (who actually escapes from prison, after seeing Johnny performing on television, in order to tell him in person how proud he is), whilst Meena finally gets to perform on stage in front of her proud family. It’s a poetic ending filled with multiple pay-offs.
The one major gripe I have with Sing is the actual singing part, which is the main promoting factor of the animated film. I was majorly disappointed by the lack of diversity with the song-listings. I really like the Rock genre (and its many sub-genres) and was really annoyed that no classic rock anthem was included, particularly when it came to Ash. I was really hoping she would get to perform a song that matched her personality but no, and instead she’s forced to play a crappy pop song. Sing was clearly pandered to the modern pop culture audience and this sickened me as I hate modern pop music (in fact I hate any music nowadays outside of the rock genre just because it’s mostly terrible) and so the animated film pretty much alienated me with its main element.
Overall Sing wasn’t as bad as I thought it was and stood up against Minions, which was atrocious, and The Secret Life of Pets, which was average. It was certainly colourful, had some good characters and developing arcs, but it still wasn’t entirely pleasing and ranks a little above average for me. I certainly wouldn’t go back and watch this animated film in a hurry, nor would I go out of my way to promote it and exclaim how great it was. It’s semi-entertaining at best and isn’t anything special. But at least it tries. Whether or not it will become a massive gimmick/cash-in-cow with is immediate green-lit sequel is another story.
At the end of the day this review was me fulfilling the wishes of my partner, who really likes this animated film, and desperately wanted me to watch it and see what I thought of it. Even though I didn’t fully enjoy it I know deep down I’ve made her happy by humouring her request. So yeah, this review was me honouring those wishes and ultimately showing my love to my awesome partner, who I think the world of. Happy (early) Valentines Day every one!