Wonder and magic don’t come easy. Those prophetic words are spoken by one Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey, his voice the essence of con), a koala with show business in his blood. Buster has inherited a theater from his father and he’s determined to keep it alive by staging a singing competition. It’s American Idol with animals, or The Voice with barnyard judges.
British writer-director Garth Jennings, well liked for the live-action Son of Rambow (2007) and music videos including Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower,” hits the animation pedal hard. It’s the latest from Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment, which gave us Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets, thank you very much. But don’t get your hopes too high this time. Sing doesn’t have the grit or the grace notes of Zootopia, which it resembles only in its concept of an animal kingdom. No potent metaphors here about predators and victims – the film slides by simply by shaking its sillies out. You could do worse.
Owing to a clerical error made by Buster’s elderly, one-eyed lizard secretary Miss Crawley (perfectly voiced by Jennings), the supposed $1,000 prize money turns into $100,000, which brings out a lot of greedy critters. Reese Witherspoon is Rosita, a pig with 25 kids; Scarlett Johansson is Ash, an emotionally fragile porcupine; and Taron Egerton, of 2014’s Kingsmen: The Secret Service, is Johnny, a teen gorilla from a family of thieves. You get the drift, right? Seth MacFarlane singing Sinatra as Mike, a mouse with a giant ego. Tori Kelly is Meena, an elephant who’s as frightened as a mouse when it comes to performing. Them’s the jokes, folks.
It must have cost the studio a life-sized mint to sample the likes of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie and the Beatles. But we only hear the music in snippets, which is almost as frustrating as waiting for the jumble of sight gags Jennings has assembled to click into a satisfying, storytelling whole. Like Buster said, “wonder and magic don’t come easy.” You’ll find the proof here.