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MovieBob Reviews SING 2016

first_imgSometimes an idea seems so obvious you can’t believe that you or anyone else didn’t think of it before. What do global mainstream audiences seem to love more than anything else? Well, if the box-office and TV ratings of the last decade-plus were any indications, the two-part answer is “Reality TV Singing Competitions” and “Funny Talking Animals.” Put `em together, and you’ve got Sing, a movie that is, well… actually pretty damn good as these things go.One doesn’t want to oversell it, of course; but when Sing is working – which is often – it’s so good it almost starts to deserve the almost obscene amount of money it’s going to earn on just that premise alone. Almost. Even still, when you actually think about it, the general premise is something of pure genius. The appeal of agreeable Reality TV pablum like American Idol or The Voice is their base-level accessibility. It’s seemingly ordinary people belting out familiar, not terribly complex pop hits in fulfillment of the innate “I could pull this off!” shower-singer secret fantasy.Doing a narrative movie version of that same milieu where you can condense the speed of events and control the characterizations makes sense (this is why the Pitch Perfect and Step Up movies are so inexplicably successful). And doing it with cartoon animals neutralizes complaints about losing the supposed “realism” factor to cinematic narrative. That’s deviously clever enough that it’s not too much of a surprise that while the animation heavy-lifting was handled by Illumination – yes, aka The Minions People. The screenplay and direction are from the guy behind Son Of Rambow and the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie.In any case, the setting is a modern-day city of anthropomorphic animals; reminiscent of Zootopia, but more aesthetically Los Angeles-inspired (with a dash of Sydney for good measure) and without all the aspirations to social commentary. Matthew McConaughey is a koala who owns struggling musical theater that he’s trying to revive by staging a singing competition that ends up garnering unexpectedly massive popularity. A typo accidentally advertises a prize of $100,000 instead of only a thousand, a plot detail that actually ends up having a bit less to do with what ends up happening than you might expect. In fact, Sing segues so deliberately from any semblance of a competition storyline to “the show must go on” backstage teamwork drama so deliberately its initial presence almost feels like some sort of formality. It’s an obligation to at least pretend at the presence of conflict lest the good vibes feel somehow unearned.After all, the plot is just an excuse for a strategically-mixed group of characters with celebrity voices to sing a fiendishly well-chosen mix of recent radio hits and karaoke night pop standards, and in both respects, they’ve organized quite a lineup. Reese Witherspoon as a pig homemaker out to prove she’s still got the moves. Scarlet Johansson as a porcupine rocker-chick who comes to realize she’s been creatively stifled by her pretentious partner/boyfriend. Seth MacFarlane as a wiseacre mouse who does Rat Pack covers (because who else was going to take that role?). Taron Edgerton as a street-tough yet sensitive gorilla boy who’s torn between his dreams of singing and joining his macho dad’s bank-robbing gang (gee, I wonder who the breakout character is going to be?). And Idol veteran Tori Kelly as an elephant with a powerful voice and crippling stage fight.And the end result of all this is… ultimately, exceptionally charming and earnest. There’s a certain point where you realize that there’s no subversion with the premise in terms of mocking the (let’s face it, easily mockable) Idol/Voice/X-Factor ephemera but also a complete lack of cynicism about the broad idea of the “songs people like to sing to themselves” setlist. The star-for-a-day fantasy of mustering the courage to get up onstage and fearlessly express yourself either through a favorite song – or maybe one of your own. It understands the unironic why the premise of talent contest reality shows sincerely connects with people, and why this particular arrangement of tunes and character stock-types works even though (indeed because) they’ve become “cheezy” and overly familiar.As in Yes, someone sings “Hallelujah,” and they do it right at the moment in the story you expect to hear that song because… there’s a reason it gets used so much in the first place. Yes, the Seth MacFarlane mouse eventually snaps off a rendition of “My Way,” because you can’t do a movie with this premise and not have somebody do the ultimate Dad At Karaoke song. The eventual reveal of what Johnny the Gorilla actually plans to sing feels deeply appropriate and the whole sequence resolving his storyline for that matter hits much harder than they really have any right to. The film overall has kind of has the same relationship to repurposing popular music as Guardians of The Galaxy – it’s practically “Wedding Reception Setlist: The Movie;” but again, there’s a reason that standards are standards.The inevitable comparison will be to Zootopia and, no, it’s not nearly as good as that (what is, in this genre?) but beyond the talking-animal setup, the two films are doing very different things to very different ends. Sing is much more in the Looney Tunes crowd-pleaser tradition as opposed to going after the “transcendent big idea” Disney angle. But in its own way it manages to deliver a collection of really likable characters all experiencing satisfying arcs over the course of an entertaining story that leaves you feeling upbeat and fulfilled (and probably with a couple of decent songs stuck in your head.) It’s 100% cinematic comfort food, but sometimes you want that. And when it needs to Sing really works – it might be the best movie of its kind since School of Rock.And that’s good news because, let’s face it: The premise alone all but guarantees they’re gonna make millions of dollars (and probably 4 or 5 sequels) even if it wasn’t. As Holiday movies go this year, you can do a hell of a lot worse.last_img