FILM REVIEW – SING. With the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly. Written by Garth Jennings. Directed by Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings. Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril. 108 minutes.
An outstanding year in animated film ends with SING, a tune-filled toon about a koala bear named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), who is trying to save his failing theater with a musical competition. That things will go wrong goes without saying. Among the elements that make it work is that while you think you know where the story is going, it’s filled with surprises.
Illumination Entertainment, which does the “Despicable Me” and “Minions” films, has taken to heart what the folks at Pixar used to know: it has to start with the script. Here we not only get caught up in the story of Moon’s project, but we come to care about each of the characters. The voice casting is perfect, with actors who completely lose themselves in their roles.
Among the competitors is Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), the mother of a brood of piglets who has to mechanize her entire household so she can slip away for rehearsals. Then there’s Mike (Seth McFarlane), a city slicker mouse with a great singing voice and a tendency to cheat at cards. Scarlett Johansson voices Ash, part of a porcupine singing duo whose partner is ready to move on without her, and Tori Kelly is Meena, an elephant with the musical talent but who is too shy to perform in public. Rounding out the chief contestants is Taron Egerton as Johnny, a gorilla who wants to perform but whose gangster family needs him to drive a getaway car.
The animation is the high quality one expects today but doesn’t necessarily break new ground. Instead, what makes this work–beyond the song score mixing new and old numbers from a variety of genres–is that we’re following the various stories of the characters and rooting for them all. Each of the storylines develops its own complications so that getting to the anticipated happy ending takes a lot of effort.
Best of all, the humor is done in the style of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons in that the jokes are at all levels: some for the kids, some for the grownups, and some for everybody. There’s never a sense–as in some of the year’s lesser offerings–of something stuck in there just to keep the parents awake. As with the year’s best animation, “Zootopia” and “Kubo and the Two Strings,” it’s a movie that adults can go to without any kids and enjoy it on their own. (And then there was “Sausage Party,” which was only for adults. As that film makes it way through DVD, streaming, and cable, here’s a reminder that it was rated R for a reason.)
Whether you’re looking for a family film or simply want to see a movie that will have you tapping your feet and leaving the theater with a big smile, “Sing” is an absolute delight.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released in early 2017. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.