Illumination Entertainment has not-so-slowly been building its reputation as the zany alternative to the more adult-pleasing Pixar. Under the guidance of company founder and producer Chris Meledandri, Illumination’s “Sing” is a fun, funny and somewhat forgettable crowd-pleaser, matching the basic requirements for the studio famous for “Despicable Me” and “Minions.”
“Sing” takes place in a world in which animals live peacefully among each other despite their differences — a stark comparison to the interspecies relations that take place at the center of another animal-themed animated film this year, Disney’s “Zootopia.” In this world, we are introduced to the wishful entrepreneur koala Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) who, after a string of unsuccessful plays in his theater, decides to put on a singing show (think “American Idol”) to help bring some publicity to his reeling dreams. Without a major hit to his name, though, the bank is going to possess his theater.
The catch is that he’s broke. So, when his iguana secretary Miss Crawley (voiced by writer and co-director Garth Jennings) accidentally writes that the reward of the competition is $100,000 instead of $1,000, and there is a wild influx of contestants, Moon is forced to put on the best show he can and fake how much money he can reward the winning contestant with.
This backstage drama takes a back seat to the personal stories of the final set of contestants. There’s Johnny (Taron Egerton), the gorilla who’s a natural born singer, but his criminal father wants him to enter into the family business. There’s the old-school, jazzy mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane), who does his best Frank Sinatra impersonation — the Rat Pack anyone? Ash (Scarlett Johansson) is a punk rock porcupine who has bigger dreams than her male co-singer has. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is an overworked, stay-at-home hog who joins up with her German hog friend Gunter (Nick Kroll). Lastly, the wild card, is the shy elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), who may have the best voice, but is crippled by anxiety and fear while on stage.
How the show (or the story) plays out isn’t where “Sing” shines, as it follows the traditional family film formula we all know and mostly love. Everyone will have their moment to shine and hard work will triumph all, leaving the audience happy in knowing that each had positive endings. But, the film’s star power, winning characters and zippy one-liners keep the whole story moving along breezily. Much of the humor is juvenile — a well-timed fart joke still elicits laughs — but seeing Matthew McConaughey’s southern accented koala hit a new rock bottom to make an income when his chips are low (involving a speedo and a car wash) is one of the funniest moments in film during 2016 regardless of animation or live action.
While not as quick-paced and loose as “Minions” or as consistently laugh-out-loud funny as “The Secret Life of Pets,” “Sing” still works as a brand-securing film for Illumination. Illumination might not have the depth of a Pixar film, but it knows how to keep a general audience thoroughly entertained throughout. Such quality explains its recent string of box office successes with “Minions” grossing more than $1 billion and both “Pets” and “Despicable Me 2” getting close. Along with that, it’s impressive that Illumination and its films can work on budgets sizably less than its Disney competitors while maintaining such crisp animation. From the opening, unbroken tracking shot that zooms around the city, the film plays with form in a way that only the animation genre can.
“Sing” may not be the best animated film of the year, but it is bound to please as massive of an audience as any. Kids will love it, it’ll make a lot of money and parents won’t be too bored in the process.