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“Sing” delivers a joyful musical for all ages

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In 2016’s “Sing,” everyone wants to be a star: the young kid singing in a city alleyway while keeping an eye out for cops; the stay-at-home-mom hopelessly trying to convince her houseful of kids and too-busy-too-notice husband that she’s just as good as the girl on the radio; the girlfriend playing back-up in the punk rock band; a teen who’s too shy to sing outside of her house; and a been-there-done-that fellow with all the swagger and talent he needs currently spending his days playing to folks boarding the subway.

 
With a movie opening like that, what would we expect to happen in “Sing” but a series of the usual events leading up to the inevitable singing competition, complete with the promise of a big cash prize and the idea of fame and new beginnings? All of this riddled, of course, with just enough backstory behind each of our five will-be finalists to keep our interest piqued.

 
But before you assume that this film, written and directed by Garth Jennings (best known for “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and “The Son of Rambow”), is just another feel good flick with a whole lot of singing and some major setback halfway that needs to be overcome, and not much else, you should probably at least know this one has animals. That’s right: “Sing” might be another take on a familiar model, but this one is (at least technically) for the kids; it’s an animated film conceived by Illumination CEO and founder, Chris Meledandri, whose company is known for such popular films as “The Secret Life of Pets” and “Minions.” Jennings expanded upon the original concept and the final result is a feel-good, incredibly watchable, Sunday afternoon sort of show.

 
Buster Moon is a loveable koala, more of a visionary than he is a success. Voiced by an appropriately eager and slightly daft Matthew McConaughey, Moon is the dapperly dressed owner and operator of Moon Theater, which is falling apart scene by scene. He is an eternal optimist, often murmuring promises to his beloved building to repair it even while it crumbles around him. He is at times nurturing and wise and at others entirely nonsensical. In a moment of epiphany brought on by crisis, he decides to hold an open audition singing competition to reignite the city’s passion in his once regal theater. And so the movie begins.

 
Throughout the movie, we are introduced more fully to the finalists glimpsed in the opening credits. The young kid singing in the alleyway is Johnny, a gorilla voiced by British actor Taron Egerton of “Eddie the Eagle” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service.” Johnny is a soulful singer and pianist who brings in some of my favorite tunes of the film, not the least of which Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me.” Johnny’s dad is the ringleader of a gang and the young gorilla spends the movie struggling between his loyalty to his father and his desire to be a singer.

 
The mom craving attention is Rosita, a wistful and perhaps all-to-relatable pig and mom to 25 little piglets, voiced by Reese Witherspoon. Witherspoon first showed us her vocal chops in 2005 with her Oscar award winning performance in “Walk the Line.” While I wouldn’t call her vocal performance here a stand-out (covering tunes by both Taylor Swift and Katy Perry) Rosita’s character adds a sweet and nurturing balance that many moms watching will be able to relate to.

 
There’s the girlfriend, Ash, the plaid mini-skirt wearing porcupine and backup guitarist in a punk band with her boyfriend. Scarlett Johansson does an exceptional job voicing the teenaged rocker, and sings one of the few original songs in the movie, “Set it All Free” (written by Dave Basset), featuring an amazing blend of pop and punk that is almost sure to make it to mainstream radio.

 
Perhaps the most loveable character is Meena, a freckled elephant so timid she spends most of her time hidden behind her large ears. Meena ends up working backstage as a stage-hand. Of course, no feel-good singing flick worth its money is going to let a girl go undiscovered and “Sing” is hardly an exception. Voiced by Tori Kelly, making her film debut, Meena’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” is bested only by herself when she sings Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry About a Thing” later on.

 
Finally, there is the tiny mouse with a giant attitude. Voiced by Seth McFarlane (best known for his work in “Ted” and “Family Guy”, Mike is irredeemably arrogant, though humorously so thanks, in part, to his pint sized packaging. He fills the room, if not the screen, with the soulful sound of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” and Bing Crosby’s “Pennies From Heaven.” With his Rat Pack swagger, gambling problems, and complete disdain for the entire affair he’s involved in, Mike offers some much needed sarcasm and attitude in a movie that can drift a bit too close to the saccharine.

 
I loved this film for the sheer simplicity of it. The lack of a truly terrible henchman; the writer’s reliance on comedic relief when showing a mother’s elaborate mechanized system to cover for her absence when she’s unable to find a sitter for 25 squealing piglets; a theater owner who employs as an assistant an ancient lizard (Miss Crawly, voiced by Jennings) with a glass eyeball that pops out from time to time, the finding of which serves as a background distraction to the main action.

 
Unlike so many of the newest animated films released today and over the last couple of years that seem intent on doing their best to be as lifelike as possible, “Sing” seems to be a throwback to the early Warner Brother days of true cartoon-like visual humor and barely—there bad guys who aren’t really all that bad.

 

 

The plot line is sweet but hardly surprising, the music is wonderful and relies on heavyweight names from all across the generational Billboard, and there’s a delightful cameo appearance from Jennifer Hudson (of American Idol fame who has since gone on to star in such films as “Dreamgirls”).

 
With a solid focus on music and a finale well worth some of the ho-hum middle bits, this is a movie that cheerfully reminds us of the joy in good friends, points out that somethings are worth doing just because of the joy in doing them, and teaches the important and ageless truth that not giving up is sometimes a community effort.

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“Sing” delivers a joyful musical for all ages