Animation studio Illumination’s Minions are almost as ubiquitous as the reality talent shows that fill our television screens, and with the animated musical SING, those worlds get a little bit closer. Written and directed by Garth Jennings (Son of Rambow), one half of the powerhouse British music video team Hammer & Tongs, it’s a familiar story about last chances for success and following your dreams.
Koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is the owner of a once-successful musical theatre, having now fallen on hard times. Against the advice of his sheep friend Eddie (John C. Reilly), Buster launches a singing competition with the last of his funds. However, Buster’s doddery iguana secretary Ms. Karen Crawley (Jennings) accidentally puts the prize at $100,000 on the flyers, and soon the whole anthropomorphic town is buzzing with excitement and pinning their hopes for stardom on Buster’s show.
With well over 80 pop songs peppering the licensing triumph of a soundtrack, SING sometimes skirts the line of being more of a extended music video than a feature narrative. This is kind of the point though, with much of the film’s humour coming from it’s gentle self-referential parody of pop culture totems. There’s a cutesy group of J-pop foxes, a baby kangaroo singing “Safety Dance,” a mouse with crooning skills of Frank Sinatra (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), and at least two overt visual references to Back to the Future for some reason.
If SING fails to pull together a sustained original narrative, it’s not through a lack of ambition. In fact, there might just be too many storylines, any one of which could have sustained an entire film, especially the tale of Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) the pig with her brood of 25 piglets, or Johnny (Taron Egerton), a talented gorilla who wants to break free of the criminal life of his mobster father (Peter Serafinowicz). The net effect is that the film is entertaining but compromised, or at least less than the sum of its parts, a legacy of its mash-up approach to the entertainment world.
Nevertheless, the animation is gorgeous, with a rapid-fire hyperlink approach to those problematic multiple storylines. Jennings’ film is a textbook example of how to create something that can only be done in animation, and rather than just recreate the reality of “reality” shows, creates city-sweeping single take pan shots that would be impossible to achieve in live action. Illumination continues its casting approach of throwing as many big names as possible at the credits, and while you may not necessarily notice the likes of Reese Witherspoon, Leslie Jones, a Germanic Nick Kroll or Jennifer Saunders, we have been given the gift of Matthew McConaughey doing a version of “Call Me Maybe.”
SING never quite achieves the intensity of its lush opening sequences, but it is also difficult not to get caught up in the sheer earnestness of the whole thing. Indeed, you may even find yourself cheering on the success of this rag-team team, the same way you would at the end of a sports movie. You will believe an elephant can sing.