Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review: "Sing"

“Zootopia’s Got Talent.”

That was the three-word review provided by a pal who saw the movie before me, and it sums up “Sing” better than I could.

This is a breezy, glitzy animated jukebox show in which movie stars play singing critters getting together for a big talent competition. It will probably win with most children, especially those who like pop songs and want to hear Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson and the like belting them out through the mouths of pigs and porcupines.

Grownups may find it a bit tedious -- I came awfully close to catching a few Zzzs during our screening -- but it builds a good head of steam toward a showstopper finale.

Written and directed by Garth Jennings, who also provides the voices of one of the minor characters, “Sing” is set in an all-animal metropolis very much like the one in “Zootopia,” where humans are neither seen nor heard, and may not even exist in this world.  (Christophe Lourdelet is co-director.)

Matthew McConaughey, who turns out to be a real vocal chameleon between this and his voice acting in “Kubo and the Two Strings,” plays Buster Moon. He’s a koala bear charlatan who runs a grand old theater that’s had one big failure after another.

McConaughey plays Moon light and schmaltzy, employing the upper register of his voice without a hint of that famous Texas drawl. Moon is an old-school “let’s put on a show” type with a heart of gold, but isn’t above stiffing contractors and a dab of flim-flam.

With the bank threatening repossession, he comes up with an idea for a huge singing contest using local unknowns. Scraping together his last bit of cash, he instructs his elderly iguana secretary to put out flyers advertising a $1,000 prize, but through some slapstick action it gets turned into $100,000. Soon every critter in town who thinks they can warble worth a darn is beating down his door.

McConaughey doesn’t get past humming, but there is a great deal of singing, both old standards and a few new tunes. Some of the actors we already knew could sing -- Johansson, Seth MacFarlane. But it’s a treat to hear Reese Witherspoon, as hectored porcine housewife Rosita, fry up some bacon and serve it with style.

Pop singer Tori Kelly plays Meena, an elephant who takes a job as stagehand because she’s too shy to show her talent. Johansson is Ash, a surly teen porcupine rocker who gets to step out of the shadow of her controlling boyfriend. MacFarlane voices Mike, a streetwise mouse who dresses, behaves and sings like he stepped right out of Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

The real sensation is Taron Egerton, the affable Brit you may remember from “Eddie the Eagle” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” He plays Johnny, a Cockney gorilla who comes from a clan of career criminals, and doesn’t want to follow in the family footsteps. Egerton’s got some truly golden pipes, soft and silky.

There’s really not a whole lot of narrative ambition to “Sing.” Each character has a mini arc to travel along, and we know where they’re going to land two minutes after we meet them. But the songs are nice to listen to, the creatures are crazy cute and your kids will be entertained for 108 minutes.

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