Culver City Observer -

MOVIE REVIEW: SING

 

February 16, 2017

As if the world isn't already drinking in enough Technicolored musical cheer with "La La Land", hot on its heels is an animated musical treat to make your Christmas or Hanukkah brighter than bright - SING! Move over Pixar, Walt Disney Animation and DreamWorks, there's a new kid on the block who's climbing the charts - Illumination Entertainment. The folks who brought us "Despicable Me" and "The Secret Life of Pets" now ventures into the world of the animation musical with an engaging story, entertaining animal characters and some of the most recognizable musical hits of the past few decades. Boasting perhaps the best soundtrack of the year (something I anticipate saying in 2017 with "Guardians of the Galaxy"), there aren't enough praises to sing about SING! To borrow from "Jerry Maguire", SING had me at Paul McCartney. What a film! One song after another after another, SING is a greatest hits soundtrack of your life covering everything and everyone. SING is pure WOW and will have you floating on air and grinning from ear to ear. And a koala voiced by Matthew McConaughey? Perfection.

Meet marsupial Buster Moon. At the young age of six, Buster fell in love with musical theatre thanks to seeing a performance by none other than the world renowned diva, Nana Noodleman. Enthralled and entranced it became his dream to become a world famous impresario and own his own theatre and put on world class productions. Using his father's life savings, Buster does indeed buy himself a grand old theatre harkening to the Broadway and vaudeville palaces of days gone by. Non-stop, production after production comes and goes, with each show introduced by the diminutive koala dropping down from the rafters nestled within a gold crescent moon. Unfortunately, all of Buster's funds were spent on buying the theatre, forcing him to seek investments from others for the actual productions. Thanks to his best friend, a llama named Eddie, financing hasn't been a problem until now. Eddie's dad has been the "silent" backer and with nary a single hit nor return on a dollar, the production cash cow has dried up. And the bank is threatening to foreclose.

Desperate to keep the theatre, Buster strikes on a bold plan; host an amateur singing competition. It's all the rage, the public likes "reality", the house will be packed, he'll make a ton of money, and he won't lose his theatre. Brilliant idea. Or not. Intending to offer a prize of $1,000 (all chained up tight in a treasure chest), things get off on the wrong foot thanks to Buster's old, very old, crocodile assistant Miss Crawly. Seems that Miss Crawly has a nasty habit of losing her glass eye and in this case, she loses it at the most inopportune time, changing the promotional fliers for auditions to offer a $100,000 prize instead of Buster's total worth of $1,000.00. Oops.

Needless to say, $100,000 brings out lots of potential contestants, prompting a hilarious and fast-paced audition process that showcases some true talent, some questionable talent, no talent, but still manages to delve into each of the lives of each of the ultimate contestants with depth and sincerity, thus resonating with the audience on multiple levels. Rosita is an overworked porcine homemaker, mother to 25 piglets, and with a husband who works all day only to come home and go to sleep, oblivious to Rosita's needs and all her hard work. The prickly Ash, appropriately a porcupine, has more teenaged angst than one would think possible, expressing it all through performance with her boyfriend and his punk music. Then there's Johnny, the sweetest gorilla one could ever hope to meet. Another frustrated teen, sporting a 50's James Dean look, Johnny's dream is to sing while his father's dream for him is to follow in dad's footsteps into the criminal lifestyle and become a part of his gang of thieves. Scene-stealing is Mike the Mouse who envisions himself as the new Ol' Blue Eyes with a "Guys and Dolls" style and then there's mousy Meena, a pachyderm with a voice like an angel but who has no courage to perform. And who could overlook, Gunther, our spangled spandex-wearing pig who goes for the gusto and lets it all hang out!

As is the way of the world for Buster Moon, however, things don't go as planned, and it doesn't take long before his contestants learn the truth about the contest. There's only $1,000 as a prize. Do they stay and compete? Or go? Will Buster lose everything? To his credit, writer/director Garth Jennings makes a hard left turn and brings everything together, building to a solid showstopping third act which embraces and incorporates the individual strengths and traits of each character, punctuating the story with each getting his or her day in the sun with beyond impressive musical performances.

Voicing is spot on. As Mr. Buster Moon, Matthew McConaughey delivers one of the most enjoyable and effective performances of his career. Finding that balance of slick con artist with overly effusive, high energy, eternal optimist, McConaughey makes Buster more than what is written, infusing him with heart and tenderness at the most unexpected moments. Smartly, animators even give Buster a wide-eyed grin that harkens to McConaughey himself. Taron Egerton is simply adorable as Johnny, complete with unabashed shyness and nervousness. Reese Witherspoon proves surprising as Rosita but it's Nick Kroll's Gunther that will have you in stitches thanks not only to Kroll's voice work, but the animation and Gunther's sparkling leotard costume design! Hilarious!

Getting in on the voicing fun as well as is director Garth Jennings who voices Ms. Crawly. Beyond a hoot and a holler. And have to say, the whole lost glass eyeball routine never gets old. Scarlett Johansson blows the roof off not only with delivering a sassy Ash, but a musical solo that explodes. Grammy-nominated Tori Kelly is adorable as Meena, capturing her shyness as well as her kick-ass vocals. Thanks to Seth MacFarlane's Mike, we see a super suave Sinatra complete with dapper suit, hat and musical pipes.

Resplendent in purple with an almost Norma Desmond presence and a twinge of humor, is none other than Nana Noodleman, voiced in her younger days by Jennifer Hudson who kills it with a soulful operatic rendition of McCartney's "Golden Slumbers, and voiced in her retirement by Jennifer Saunders. And of course, John C. Reilly nails it as Buster's laid back bestie Eddie.

Story is contemporary and topical while incorporating the magic of days gone by and the era of grand theatres and the glamour of history. Set in a world populated completely by animals, there is a nonchalance and immediate acceptance of the premise with the story as easily set in a real or animated world of humans. Characters are extremely well-crafted, from Rosita and her family with 25 little piglets to shy Meena and teenaged Johnny wanting to sing and not follow in dad's footsteps. And of course, best friend Eddie. Story messaging is positive and emboldening for young and adult alike encouraging everyone to dream and reach for the stars. Every emotion and message is encapsulated within Buster Moon but then takes more defining shape and visualization with the individual stories of each of the main characters. There is someone on screen at all times that speaks to someone in the audience. And the jokes just keep on coming. Witty one-liners that land every time.

Musically, one couldn't ask for more as the film boasts tracks from Paul McCartney, Elton John, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Christopher Cross, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga, among others.

Animation pops with great use of color and texture. Nothing is overly saturated. Main characters and the Moon Theatre are more saturated than background or background characters. There is a nice mix of texture with the flat street backgrounds and square corners leaving the round curves and dimension to each of the animal characters, each of which is celebratory thanks to wonderful anthropomorphism. Walls inside Rosita's house are flat with texture coming from objects within. Similarly, attention is paid to sizing of not only the animals, but their surroundings. For example, Meena's multi-generational family lives in a normal sized middle class house but animators keep the house proportions standard, thus creating the feeling of elephant enormity as they duck to walk under doorways while squeezing their midsections against the door jambs. This technique also works well with Buster and The Moon Theatre as it makes the theatre appear larger than life as it surrounds the koala small in stature but big on dreams; at times it feels as if the theatre is too small for Buster's dreams, a sensibility that you'll see unfold in the third act. Refreshing is the look of the animals. Animation is not designed to make them as photorealistic or crisp as we typically see in other animated projects.

But at the end of the day, it's the music that really makes SING sing! There is not a single misstep in SING. . . . .but for it ending. Most entertaining and fun film of the year!

Directed by Garth Jennings and Christophe Lourdelet

Written by Garth Jennings

Voice Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton, Jennifer Hudson, Tori Kelly, Jennifer Saunders, Nick Kroll

 

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