“Sing” is an often-adorable, often-puzzlingly off-kilter animated film about animal singers putting on a show despite many obstacles, for the love of music and performing. What’s best about the film is simple — seeing a wild assortment of animal characters sing an even wilder assortment of songs, everything from Lady Gaga to Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift to Christopher Cross. It works every time, with a nifty score from Joby Talbot tying it all together. The story around it, though, keeps getting derailed.
The concept harks back to the musicals of the 1930’s — the old “let’s put on a show.” Koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is a failing impresario who is about to lose his theater. He has a devoted assistant with an unfortunate habit of losing her glass eye. Even more unfortunate, the movie seems to think we will find that hilarious.
How about a singing competition! Great idea! Small problem — due to a mistake, the prize money has been vastly inflated and the invitations to participate widely distributed. Oh, well, on to the auditions! Hopefuls include a cynical mouse (Seth MacFarlane) who croons saloon songs, Ash, a punky hedgehog (Scarlett Johansson), a harried pig with dozens of children to care for (Reese Witherspoon), a strange pig named Gunter (Nick Kroll), Johnny, a teenage gorilla in a leather jacket and with a Cockney accent, (Taron Egerton), and Meena, a shy teenage elephant (real-life “American Idol” contestant Tori Kelly).
The singing is a delight and I was genuinely sorry that so many of the performances were just snippets. The same goes for the all-star cast, many of whom have just one or two lines. It never takes advantage of the animal setting and instead relies on overplotted backstories of the participants that are mostly a distraction, with one exception the Rube Goldberg contraption the mother pig creates to care for her children and oblivious husband while she is out singing. Johnny’s father leads a robbery gang, and they expect Johnny to act as lookout and getaway driver just when he needs to be at the theater. Ash has a boyfriend who does not realize how special she is. And Meena is just too shy to perform. The robbery sequence and subsequent visit to Johnny’s father in jail, a serious and scary fire, some predatory loan sharks, and that glass eye “humor” are all especially poor choices for a movie positioned for families with young children.
Parents should know that this film includes some slapstick humor, including a character whose false eye keeps popping out, criminal behavior involving a parent and teenage child, parent in prison, scary fire, business problems.
Family discussion: If you were going to perform, what song would you pick and why? What made Meena so shy and what helped her?
If you like this, try: “Zootopia” and “Despicable Me”