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What does 'Sing' offer that we haven't already seen?

Posted December 21, 2016

THE ANIMAL KINGDOM — I will start with the obvious first: "Sing" is nothing new to anyone who has consumed an animal based movie within the last year or so.

Don’t get me wrong, the movie looks great and the music was fantastic. I can even see a scenario where it could be considered for some big awards. However, one minute into the film, in my mind I had already renamed the movie from "Sing" to "Meanwhile in Zootopia." Yet, as the ending credits for "Sing" began to roll, I found myself surrounded by dozens of clapping, cheering children. A reaction that was completely unexpected by me from a movie that did nothing to expand the genre of anthropomorphic animals wearing human clothes and speaking human language.

I was completely surprised. Had I fallen asleep during a key plot point? Did these kids just not get out enough? Are the parents somehow to blame? Or… had I missed the point entirely? After much thought, my answer to all of these questions is “probably,” but mostly I had missed the point from the beginning.

Here are the lessons the cheering kids understood that at first I did not:

Optimism isn’t always easy but is always worth it

The lead character Buster Moon is an eternal optimist and somewhat unscrupulous koala bear played by Matthew Mcconaughey. Buster’s greatest strength is the power of a hopeful attitude in the face of adversity, even if that adversity is sometimes selfmade.

As an owner of a once great theater, Buster has fallen on hard times after a string of bad productions. Buster is a schemer who is always one step ahead of his debtors as he scrambles to put together a singing competition that he is sure will be a hit. Of course, things don’t go as planned and he is faced ultimately with the fear that maybe he was never good enough to live his own dream or help others realize theirs.

This is the key point of the film as Buster has to decide how he will choose to handle his inevitable disappointment. Does he quit and give up or does he find the strength and hope for the best, even if he doesn't know exactly what that looks like? I’ll let you find out for yourself but this was a lesson that was definitely not lost on the children in the theater.

We all have different problems and that’s OK

The main cast of "Sing" consists of Buster the koala (Matthew Mcconaughey), elephant (Tori Kelly), gorilla (Taron Egerton), pig (Reese Witherspoon), iguana (Garth Jennings), porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) and a mouse (Seth MacFarlane) all of whom struggle with their own conflicts, fears and insecurities.

In real life, it is sometimes difficult to see others for who they are and separate their problems from ours. Framing individual circumstances in the context of very different animals allows us to visually see the characters as individuals and identify to their particular problems, making it easier to sort out the circumstances behind their choices. By the end of the film, we are left with a very clear picture of what it takes to overcome individual obstacles and work toward a bigger goal as a team. This is something I overlooked initially because I was too busy complaining to myself about sitting through yet another animal talky.

Luck does not equal success

It always bothers me to hear someone who has been successful for any amount of time justify their success by saying, “I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and everything worked out from there.” Children should not be misled into believing success and achievement are simply a matter of luck and riding that wave into shore.

"Sing" does a great job helping children understand that celebrity is the byproduct of countless hours of hard work, setbacks and disappointments overcome through perseverance and optimism.

My big take away

With all of this being said, I still stand by my initial statement that "Sing" offers nothing new to a genre that consists of so many similar animal movies and many more to come. However, the big difference is that I may have just begun to see the value of these movies from the point of view of the children they were meant for.

My recommendation is to take your kids to see this movie— they will love it, and if you look for it, you will see why. "Sing" tells its story very well, and at least for me, reminded me there are always lessons to be found in the familiar.

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