Sunday, February 19, 2017

REVIEW: "Sing" (2016)

2016 saw the release of several animated features starring anthropomorphic animals, or animals with top billing. (No offense, Daffy Duck.) Disney Animation's Zootopia recalled the studio's classic style of characters from Mickey Mouse to the fox version of Robin Hood and even the bears and rabbits from Song of the South, while each animal got their respective nature and size. The Angry Birds Movie was adapted from the popular phone app about silly, big-eyebrowed birds against silly, villanous pigs. And the blockbuster Pixar sequel Finding Dory saw the return of the ever-popular (and forgetful) blue tang on an (unforgettable) adventure to find her parents.

Sing marks the seventh feature film from Illumination Entertainment, the Universal Pictures-owned studio famous for escapist and entertaining films as the Despicable Me franchise as well as last summer's The Secret Life of Pets. Their latest feature stars anthropomorphic animals in an American Idol-esque singing competition. From that description, the ensemble cast is colorful and terrific, and the vocal talents are stellar.

The story is conventional (and, in a way, predictable), as head honcho Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a koala bear, struggles yet determines to keep his theater from closing down. The problem, though, is that Moon has not had one successful hit in his career, and everybody doubts him. All but the talented singers he brings in--a band of misfits, if you will, who (not surprisingly) become a family. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is a mother pig of 25 piglets, and wife to a workaholic husband, who desires to pursue a lifelong dream. Gunter (Nick Kroll) is a flamboyant and energetic European pig. Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a teenage gorilla with a master thief father. Meena (Tori Kelly) is a shy teenage elephant with an amazing voice. Ash (Scarlet Johansson) is a punk-rock teenage porcupine. And Mike (Seth McFarland) is a Sinatra-eque con artist mouse/musician. All characters are inspired by music that parallels their circumstances and ambitions, for better or worse, and they soon help Moon realize that he's helped them become more than they thought they could be. As he tells a shy Meena, "Don't let fear stop you from doing the thing you love." And it's these characters (and their music) that carry the film. Furthermore (without spoiling), the situations these characters get into turn out different than what we may expect.

As they showcased with Minions and Pets, Illumination proves itself a lead animation studio in terrific character design and personalities, recalling what made Warner Brothers (particularly the films of Chuck Jones) and MGM produce enduring and universal hits. Another film Sing can be compared to is the period musical Cats Don't Dance (1997), which also featured anthropomorphic animals in early-20th century Hollywood. Sing is great fun to look at, with its eye-popping animation and attention to detail, while it's acts are entertaining (save for one, which is a little risque). It's a character-driven story that recalls the theater experience as much as it centers on the singing experience, while bringing life to both, and also delivering a message on pursuing dreams, even while at rock bottom.

Vocal cast of Sing with their respective characters (l-r):
Seth McFarlane (Mike), Tori Kelly (Meena), Reese Witherspoon (Rosita),
Matthew McConaughey (Buster Moon), Taron Egerton (Johnny),
Scarlet Johansson (Ash), Nick Kroll (Gunter) 
It's also noteworthy in how it encompasses almost a century of show tunes and pop hits up to today. While the year saw the unexpected passing of several famous artists and musicians, from David Bowie to Leonard Cohen to George Michael to Prince, Sing, on a positive note, pays homage to many of these artists' popular songs and their enduring cultural status. The result, like La La Land, is so showstopping, cheery and entertaining, you can't help but dance and sing along. Talk about ending the year on a high note.

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