Confession time: I don’t like Minions. The combination of infantile speaking, slapstick and hyperactivity irritates me. Although supremely cute, The Secret Life of Pets – also from animation company Illumination Entertainment – featured the same kind of manic energy. So I was braced for more of the same in Sing, Illumination’s big holiday season release.
Well, count me VERY pleasantly surprised.
On paper, Sing may look like an attempt to cash in on Zootopia’s success, with maybe a touch of Trolls thrown in. After all, the feel-good musical is set in a city populated by anthropomorphic animals with very identifiable problems, whether financial, romantic, familial or psychological. Despite these similarities to other major animated releases of 2016, Sing quickly establishes itself as its own entity. Heartfelt and largely free of wackiness, it’s Illumination’s most “mature” and grounded release to date.
What Sing isn’t, though, is original. The film’s premise – a “one last chance” musical talent show – has been seen a hundred times. It’s an underdog narrative used in multiple live-action movies, as well as the basis of probably a half dozen reality shows currently on TV. The thing is, Sing is so cheerful, charming and crammed with stars that you tend to forgive the tired formula.
Sing could have worked just as well with human characters instead of animals. However, going the critter route presents Illumination with a chance to showcase their exceptional characterisation skills. With such a large, diverse cast, there is someone for every viewer to latch onto. This includes Matthew McConaughey’s optimistic, bill-dodging koala; Reese Witherspoon’s pig housewife with shelved musical dreams; Taron Egerton’s teenage gorilla terrified of disappointing his father; Seth MacFarlane’s cocky crooner mouse and Scarlett Johansson’s punk porcupine struggling to assert her own identity. There are a few others as well. Jennifer Saunders’ aged sheep diva is a highlight, and look out for the J-Pop foxes.
A surprising amount of attention is given to fleshing out every character’s motivations and fears. Visually, each is brought to life through some truly impressive animation. The piggie dance moves are especially memorable, while the gorillas teeter on the brink of Uncanny Valley: Creature Edition. It’s exceptional technical work. Kudos also to the filmmakers for mixing up the expected accents – so you have cockney apes and a koala with Texan drawl.
Of course, the major selling point of Sing is its music. The movie is basically an animated jukebox musical. It features 85 hit songs, from Frank Sinatra to Taylor Swift; Queen to Lady Gaga. Some tracks simply play in the background as part of the movie’s soundtrack, while others are covered by the movie’s stars. The licencing rights must have been a headache to procure, but it’s worth it. The songs come with built-in feel-good vibes. Their usage, combined with the well-realised characters, work together to win you over. It’s impossible to get to the end of the inevitable talent show without a grin on your face.
Sing is perfect cross-generational entertainment for the whole family; although it’s debatable whether its reined-in nature will sustain the interest of very young children. If they adore pop songs, though, it should be fine. Sing is a joyful tribute to dreams and the inspiring nature of music – and it’s highly recommended.
Sing releases in South Africa on Friday, 23 December.