Film animation is not in the best of places. Dreamworks has fallen in prestige and quality. Studio Ghibli has been on hiatus since 2014. Even Pixar is making confusing choices in production, with Cars 3 and Toy Story 4 in the works. It feels as though modern animation is stuck in place, showing cute animals, fart jokes, and silly gag humor instead of developed characters and compelling stories that are simple enough for kids to get and compelling enough to keep the adults in the theatre watching. Perhaps the poster child for the state of animation today is Illumination Entertainment, a subsidiary of Universal Studios that has risen to fame with Despicable Me 1 and 2, Hop, The Lorax, and Minions. The studio is probably most famous for giving us the adorable yellow minions. They’re fine, but they got a standalone film to milk their popularity and their humor is everything that has gotten old in comedy for me, especially animated comedy.
When my mom expressed an interest in going to see Illumination’s newest film, Sing, I thought it would be a harmless film with some good moments sprinkled in. When I realized who made it, especially with the mixed critical response to both this film and the recent Secret Life of Pets, I got a bit nervous. When the previews rolled and I saw the horror of The Emoji Movie roll, I face palmed so hard, fearful of the film to follow.
Fortunately, Sing is actually pretty good. It does have its fair share of fart jokes, puns, and gag humor, and the notion of a singing concept is a little overdone with American Idol, The Voice, and many other similar shows existing in real life. However, I wasn’t cringing for the film. In fact, I quite enjoyed it. It’s a fun movie with impressive animation, a compelling set up, characters I enjoy and root for, excellent music, and voice acting that is absolutely perfect. Matthew McConaughey has a phenomenal voice and puts it to good use as Buster Moon, a koala working as a show producer who owns an old theatre that has fallen into financial difficulty. Seth MacFarlane brings cockiness and irresistible charm with his speaking voice and his lineup of crooner songs, namely Sinatra hits, and is a huge highlight. Jennifer Hudson as a shy but talented elephant is excellent and Scarlett Johannsen as Ash, a rocking porcupine with an underappreciative boyfriend are so much fun to watch.
My favorite character in the movie is Johnny, a gorilla with a cockney accent voiced by Taron Egerton. His arc is possibly the most dramatic and, for me at least, the most satisfying. He is a charming prescience that you can’t root against if you have a heart and relates well with the teenage and young adult crowd looking for their own direction and acceptance from their parents. It’s a brilliant casting choice, as are the rest of the characters. There was depth, development, and a full arc for each of the important characters. It had the depth that many animated films seem to lack in today’s age.
I’m not sure why so many critics have decided to be harsh toward this movie. David Ehrlich of Indiewire gave it a 16 out of 100 in his review of the film, claiming ‘”Sing” is the Platonic ideal of an Illumination movie. It’s a profoundly soulless piece of work that shines a light on the mediocrity they foist upon the children of the world.’ I’m not sure what film we both apwatched, but I didn’t see a soulless production. I saw an entertaining movie with good music, imaginative sequences, namely with the squids, and excellent moral lessons to take away for kids from 1 to 102. It’s not the best movie I’ve seen all year, but I would be lying if I said it was anything less than a fun, lighthearted musical comedy with phenomenal voice acting.
If you have kids and want them to start liking musicals, this is a fine way to introduce them to it. I just hope that Illumination makes more of this and less of the Minions moving forward. Animation needs more heart and character and Sing gives us those in spades.