Sing is just the third film to be directed by Garth Jennings, the man bold enough to try and bring The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy to the big screen in 2005, and responsible for the sublime Son Of Rambow in 2007. Off the back of the box office numbers his new animated feature, Sing, notched up in America over Christmas, it’s unlikely to be long before he’s at work on Sing 2. And, pleasantly, that’s a welcome proposition.
Cards on the table: I’ve had grumbles in the past about some of the work of Illumination Entertainment to date, and in particular, its continued struggle to find narratives to marry up to its quite excellent work in creating characters, and in on-screen comedy. As much as I chuckle through the Despicable Me movies, when it came to something like The Secret Life Of Pets, I felt the concept was great, but the story wasn’t. Once the pets left their homes, it all felt disappointingly generic.
Sing doesn’t, though. Instead, there’s a warm beating heart at the centre of the movie, that comes from the ethos underpinning Jennings’ script. He’s fashioned the story, effectively, of an animal-populated X-Factor-style singing competition, organised in this case by Buster Moon, a koala with the voice of Matthew McConaughey. Struggling to make ends meet at his theatre (honouring his father as he does), and finding an assortment of shade-of-grey tricks to keep things going, Moon happens upon the idea of a singing competition with a cash prize. One typo later, that cash prize is inflated, and there’s a queue of auditionees waiting outside his door.
This is the bit I’d braced myself for. I gave up watching television talent shows due to their willingness to ridicule human beings, viewing them as collateral damage in the ratings war. Jennings isn’t playing that game, though, and thus we don’t get a procession of terrible auditions. Instead, he carves out a succession of small, interesting and varied characters, who each have emotional and/or financial reasons for taking to the stage.
The stand outs include Taron Egerton’s Cockney gangster, Johnny, the hard rock of Scarlett Johansson’s Ash, and Reese Witherspoon’s charming Rosita. I found myself, slowly, rooting for each of them.
The story follows some familiar beats, but it does hold together as a cohesive three act entity, with Jennings wise enough to keep things pacey and light. It’s also really good fun, with a delightful old-fashioned tinge. I do think Sing suffers a little by comparison to the jaw-dropping Zootropolis when trying to establish its city of animal inhabitants at the start of the film, but in that company, few would emerge on top of Disney’s opus. Furthermore, Sing swerves and goes in a different direction after it’s initial setup.
Where Sing soars is when it spends time with its cast of characters, who I could easily imagine would head off to for a beer or two after work and share stories of the challenges they face. Were they not all animals. It’s just an amiable, likeable bunch. I do hope that Jennings gets the chance to do more with them.
Sing plays broadly, too, with a songbook that could genuinely fill a good three or four soundtrack albums. If you’re allergic to popular pop choons, it’s best to brace yourself. But also, if you’re hunting for a fun animated adventure, that a family can enjoy, one that actually has kindness at heart of it, it’s a sweet movie, this. And for Illumination, what it lacks in minions, it makes up for in a story that feels like it’s doing more than servicing requisite set pieces.
Sing is in UK cinemas from Friday.