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Animated 'Sing' believes more is more, when less would have been better

Posted December 22, 2016

“SING” — 2½ stars — Voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton; PG (some rude humor and mild peril); in general release

The creators of “Sing” believe that more is more. If one animated animal singing a familiar pop song is funny, then a dozen animals singing a dozen different pop songs must be hilarious. That’s how we get covers of Beyonce, Lady Gaga, the Pointer Sisters, Seal, the Beatles, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Carly Rae Jepsen and many more packed into the same 108-minute film.

“Sing” is essentially the animated equivalent of “American Idol,” and that may be the best indicator to determine whether or not you will enjoy this film. The plot centers around a koala bear named Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey. Buster owns a theater that is in financial trouble, but he has an idea: stage a local singing competition to raise money to save the theater. When he bounces the idea off his best friend, a sheep named Eddie (John C. Reilly), Eddie asks, “Who wants to see another one of those?”

It’s unclear whether the filmmakers behind “Sing” understand the irony of that question.

Buster doesn’t let Eddie discourage him and soldiers on with his plan. Hopefuls line up in droves, and we get the requisite audition sequence. Finalists are chosen for the actual public performance/competition, including a gorilla named Johnny (Taron Egerton), a domestic pig named Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a porcupine named Ash (Scarlett Johansson) and an arrogant mouse named Mike (Seth MacFarlane). There’s also an elephant named Meena (Tori Kelly) who is too shy to try out, so she joins the stage crew.

Each member of the group has their own subplot. Johnny is trying to escape his father’s gang of bank robbers. Rosita is trying to escape her ho-hum life as homemaker to a couple dozen piglets and an oblivious husband. Ash wants to escape her domineering band mate/boyfriend and rock out to her own original music. Meena just wants to escape her shyness and experience the joy of live performance.

All that “more is more” philosophy subjects “Sing” to the curse of the ensemble cast. When you juggle lots of storylines, you have to resolve lots of storylines, and in this case, that means everyone has to have their time in the spotlight when, after the requisite twists and turns of the plot, the group finally takes the stage at the end of the movie.

“Sing” has its charms, but it also tends to remind you of other movies that did what “Sing” wants to do better. If you want to spend time in an animated world populated by talking animals, go with “Zootopia.” If you want to watch a movie that celebrates the joy of making and performing music, John Carney’s “Sing Street” is one of the unsung gems of 2016.

None of this is to say the movie is bad. Little kids will laugh, and some big kids will, too. There is a fantastic sequence where, in a desperate move to make money, Buster sells himself out to a local car wash. But where the best animated features blend story, craft and wit in a way that appeals to the parents and the kids, “Sing” lags a step or two behind.

“Sing” is rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril; running time: 108 minutes.

Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who appeared weekly on "The KJZZ Movie Show" from 2013 to 2016. He also teaches English composition for Weber State University. Find him online at facebook.com/joshterryreviews.

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