Sing is a Jukebox Musical with a Truly Positive Message

Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) is a boy with a dream – no matter that he’s a koala – and that dream is to surround himself with the most beautiful singing voices in the world. At the age of six, the tyke heard the voice of an angel: Nana Noodleman (Jennifer Saunders) an opera singer whose magical, captivating soprano inspired Buster to not just follow his fancy, but to chase it and catch it.


2016, PG

Years later, when Buster is all grown up, he buys the theater where he first saw Nana perform. He puts on shows, just as he’d always planned. But Buster’s hopes of a soaring career as an impresario are dashed when he discovers not everyone loves live performance as much as he does. He tries everything to save the theater from foreclosure after a huge flop, and just when hope is about gone, Buster hits on an idea: Put on a singing competition for everyone in town, a last-ditch bid to pique interest in his beloved, failing, venue.

Not everyone thinks it will work. Even his BFF, Eddie (John C. Reilly) is unmoved. “A singing competition?” he scoffs. “Who wants to see another one of those?” But Buster forges ahead. “You know what's good about hitting rock bottom, Eddie? There's only one way to go, and that's up!” Buster is an eternal optimist, and a bit of a scoundrel, but he loves his theater above all and will do anything to preserve it.

He decides to offer a grand prize of $1,000 (even though he’s $65 short) and has his assistant Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings, who also is the writer-director of the film), whip up some flyers – little does he know, the addled one-eyed iguana makes a typo… a big one with two extra zeros, increasing the prize money into the stratosphere. Buster gets so caught up in the excitement, and in the hope his dream might actually survive, he runs with it.

The townsfolk are in a tizzy when they see the American Idol-style competition brochure – it brings all kinds of critters crawling out of the woodwork to vie for the accidentally-inflated prize. There’s Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a housewife sow with 25 piglets; Johnny (Taron Egerton), a reluctant gangster gorilla with a debonair cockney accent; Meena (Tori Kelly), a painfully shy elephant; Ash (Scarlett Johansson) a punk rock porcupine with a husky intonation; and Mike the Mouse (Seth MacFarlane), whose little lungs conjure up a big Sinatra-like voice. Each of these hopeful underdogs has their own story that goes beyond the desire to win the prize money.

The ably-animated animated action doesn’t always stay stuck onstage – there are some pretty hair-raising action sequences, including one that culminates on a rooftop and is clearly an homage to good old King Kong. What’s more, it seems to be right on trend as the third 2016 animated movie (along with Finding Dory and Secret Life of Pets) in which a small critter manages to steal and crazily drive a human-sized car! Not sure what that’s all about – but it’s a cute throwback to the Disney days of Goofy in his Motor Mania series. Whether you see it in 3D on the big screen, or in HD at home, Sing looks lovely and bright, bursting with fun characters and kooky costumes.

Many of the signature songs chosen by the contestants are inspirational in nature: Pennies from Heaven, The Wind, and Hallelujah, to name a few. I’m not sure if kids will appreciate the decades-old tunes, but there is a funny riff on Nicki Minaj’s rather racy song, Anaconda (as seen in the trailer, with the lady bunnies shaking their, um, cottontails), and with no less than 65 songs packed into the relatively short running time, every kid (and parent) is bound to find something to sing along to. (What’s more, the numbers feature a good share of artists who fell victim to 2016: “the year the music died,” including George Michael, David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.)

Sing is made by the folks who brought us Despicable Me, Minions, and The Secret Lives of Pets, but it doesn’t quite have the zing of edgy humor and adventure we’ve come to expect from Illumination (not that that matters… it’s racked up nearly 300 million at the U.S. box alone, to date) – in spite of the exterior action here and there, it’s more focused on the vocal numbers and truly does live up to its name. Sing is a jukebox musical with a truly positive message, and it goes deep into each character’s backstory to show how one’s goals can actually be achieved – as Buster tells the elephant with stage fright, “Do what you love. Then you won't be afraid anymore. Because you're actually doing it.”

So what if its message about following your dreams and doing what you love to please yourself and no one else doesn’t reinvent the wheel? It doesn’t have to. Somewhere out there is a kid whose first exposure to this age-old story will be Sing. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

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