Sing was sold to the public as a fun little kids’ film about animals competing in an American Idol type show. And boiled down to its parts, yeah, that’s what it is. But there’s also more to it than that. It’s a testament to those that love the arts, the sound and feel of the theater, and the ability to create magic with little more than the right melodies from your voice. It creates a world around compassionate, likable characters, and when combined with a smart script and talented actors and comedians-who can also sing-you have one of the best films of the year.
Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is an optimistic koala huckster. Ever since he was six, he’s been in love with the theater, and he has spent his adult life trying to prove to the world he’s capable of bringing the art and the magic of the theater himself. However, after a series of flops, his theater is failing, and is deeply in debt. As a last ditch effort, he decides to hold a singing competition to raise money. However, due to a freak error, the flyer reports that the top prize is $100,000, instead of Buster’s last $1,000. However, he decides to proceed anyway, and puts together a largely talented group, including a housewife pig who wants to follow her teenage dream as a singer (Reese Witherspoon), a teen punk rocker porcupine who has recently split with her band/boyfriend (Scarlett Johansson), a young Cockney gorilla who wants out of his father’s gang of thieves (Taron Egerton), an old-timey crooner/con artist (Seth MacFarlane), and a shy elephant with a big voice (Tori Kelly).
Much of the credit for this film being such a joy goes to Garth Jennings. His joyful mixture of childish humor and heartwarming adult storytelling can be seen in his first film, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and are put to better use in 2007’s Son of Rambow. However, I’d make the argument that everything he’s been working towards really comes into its own here. This is a film that wears its heart on its sleeve, filled with a passion for the theater, a love for music, and an aptitude for comedy. I think the best testament to this is an examination of how the story is structured. Now, most films would pick one character and support them: the theater owner trying to save his job, the housewife who needs a new lease on life, the young man who wants to prove himself to his dad, or the shy girl with the big voice trying to overcome her stage fright. What’s amazing about this this film is that it features all of these tropes, and treats all of them with the same amount of love and affection. You don’t know who you want to win the top prize, because in any other movie, you’d want all of them to win the competition. To make you pick favorites amongst an assortment of characters like this is absolutely great choice on the writer/director’s part. Sure, the ending’s a bit of a cop out, but that’s ok-the decision is still etched in stone.
However, if the film has a real hero, it’s the person who had to license the music. Essentially, to get the rights to use a song in your movie, you have to wine and dine the artist a little bit, and pay a healthy little sum for the right. This is why most films only feature about 10 songs, tops. In what I assume made up most of the $75 million budget, Sing features a whopping eighty licensed songs. That’s right: there are eighty songs that you know and love that appear in this film. And this isn’t counting the two original songs thrown in for good measure. To prove why I love this movie, here is a list of songs that I either love or ironically love that appear in this movie:
- Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight
- Shake It Off (sung by Nick Kroll and Reese Witherspoon!)
- My Way
- Baker Street
- Gimme Some Lovin’
- Call Me Maybe (sung by McConaughey!!!!!!!!!)
- 9 to 5
- Bad Romance
- All of Me
- True Colors
- Under Pressure
- Crazy in Love
- Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go
- Rapper’s Delight
- Pennies From Heaven
- The Humpty Dance
- I’m Still Standing
- Let’s Face the Music and Dance
- Kiss from a Rose (sung by a sheep, to expected but hilarious results)
- The Safety Dance
- The Theme to Once Upon a Time in America
This may be the biggest collection of songs in a movie ever, and yet it makes the film that much more impressive. Nothing feels cheap or dated-it all feels natural and realistic for a singing competition-even for one featuring animals. Plus, all of these covers are great. There’s nothing more exciting than hearing a bunch of songs you love sung well by people you like. And that’s pretty much all Sing is: a fun, family story that allows your favorite people to do karaoke for you (but good karaoke!). Put it this way: one of Taylor Swift’s dumbest songs (“Shake It Off”) is featured in this movie, it is sung by Elle Woods and Ruxin, and it completely feels like a revelation.
The voice cast for this film might be one of the most impressive of all time. Not only are these actors required to be funny and emotional (like most voice actors), they have to sing! Classic songs! And sound good! And it works! McConaughey’s choice of voice for a koala is odd and funny, but it also works for the character, and makes him so incredibly huggable. Tori Kelly’s acting is fine, but she more than makes up for it when she belts out in her few big songs. Of the actors, Witherspoon is probably the weakest singer, but damn is she having fun in the role. Her performance might be my favorite of the bunch, even if she doesn’t have the strongest voice. The strongest voice of the actors consists of a three way tie between MacFarlane, who’s rendition of “My Way” is truly heart-stopping, Johannson, who finally gets to show off her rock chops (her “Set It All Free” is my favorite original song, and the other one is performed by Stevie Wonder and Ariana Grande!), and the real MVP, Taron Egerton, who’s Johnny is the best voiced as well as the best singer. Other great actors/comedians appearing in the film include Nick Offerman as Witherspoon’s workaholic husband, Peter Serafinowicz as Johnny’s father, channeling his best Jason Statham, Beck Bennett as Johannson’s awful boyfriend, Leslie Jones and Jay Pharoah as Tori Kelly’s family, Jennifer Saunders and Jennifer Hudson as stubborn former singer Nana Noodleman, and director Jennings himself as Karen Crawly, Buster’s wonderful elderly female assistant. However, if the film has a true stand-out, it’s Nick Kroll as Gunter, a flamboyant German pig who loves to dance that finds himself partnered with Witherspoon’s Rosita. Kroll brings a lovable passion and bright optimism to a role that could otherwise be obnoxious and is instead hilarious. My only complaint is he wasn’t in the movie nearly enough. Oh well. I guess it’s better that he only shows up enough that he doesn’t become annoying.
Sing is a great testament to why I love music, why I love the theater, and, to an extent, why I love movies. It’s about the tenacity to chase your dreams, the courage to battle your fears, and the joy of seeing people work hard to perfect their talents. Watching it play out in an anthropomorphic world just adds to the magic of the story. And when you combine this many great songs with this many great actors and comedians, you end up with one of the best family films of the year.