Sing barely cobbles together a plot to provide connective tissue for its sequences of funny looking animals singing pop songs. It involves a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), who is living his dream of running his own theater. Unfortunately, the place is falling apart, and he’s on the verge of losing the theater. And so, he decides that the best thing to do would be to hold a singing contest. He accidentally advertises a prize that he can’t afford to pay, and soon has every animal in the city lining up to audition. He gathers a select few and tries to get them ready for a show that he hopes will save his theater.Each of these characters is given a perfunctory plot as well. Gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) is the son of a criminal, but dreams of singing. Pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) is a hardworking housewife who has fallen into a rut. Porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson) is in a band with her domineering boyfriend, but is forced to strike out on her own when she’s the only one selected. Mouse Mike (Seth MacFarlane) is just in it for the money, and has already started to spend beyond his means. Elephant Meena (Tori Kelly) is too shy to actually audition, but Buster takes her on as a stage manager as she tries to gain the courage to finally sing. The story is an obligation at best. The movie doesn’t offer much meat on its way to resolving these characters’ various stories. Take Mike’s story as a particularly shaky example. For the entirety of the film, he is a pretty terrible person. There is no real arc to his character, no real sense of what it is that he’s supposed to accomplish. The film seems to ultimately say that the character is worthy of redemption because he can sing. He isn’t even really necessary in the third act, but the film seems to be entirely enamored by the image of a tiny mouse in a suit with Seth MacFarlane’s voice singing Sinatra.And to be completely fair, there is indeed some appeal to a tiny mouse in a suit with Seth MacFarlane’s voice singing Sinatra. If it were presented as an isolated Youtube clip, it would be completely amusing. But in the context of a feature film, its appeal is tempered by the overall looseness of the narrative. At nearly 110 minutes, the film ends up feeling pretty shaggy. And by the end of it all, the whole idea of Buster Moon keeping this theater running still feels like a pretty flimsy premise for all this action. The film never really manages to make much of a case for its main character, who achieves his goals largely through the efforts and talents of others.
The film’s main virtue is its look. Sing differentiates itself from every other talking animal movie by embracing the bestial nature of its characters. There is still cuteness to the designs, but what’s more interesting is just how much these animals end up looking like actual animals. The animation on display in general is clearly on the cutting edge, with genuinely awe-inspiring lighting effects giving some of these sequences a real wow factor. Voice work is pretty terrific all around. Matthew McCounaughey is making really interesting choices with his animated work. Here, he is practically unrecognizable as Buster Moon, eschewing his signature drawl and really projecting the character’s false bravado.Sing doesn’t really seem to want to do more than string together a bunch of scenes of animals incongruously singing pop tunes. It is a movie that pretty much takes American Idol as its peg, using slivers of backstory to prop up the various performance sequences. The movie only really comes alive when there’s someone singing on screen. The rest of the movie, while brought to life by pretty strong animation, just doesn’t provide enough narrative to justify the entire venture.