Audiences are spoilt for choice nowadays when it comes to animation, family-friendly fare and talking animals; in a year where most other genres had their fair share of falters and outright failures, it constantly hit the right notes: Finding Dory, Zootopia, The Secret Life of Pets, Moana and The Jungle Book all exist as cinematic high points of 2016. Sing, the final of such releases in the USA, has only just made its premiere in the UK - so how does it compare to what came before it?
Buster Moon decides to hold a singing competition to save this theatre, which is on the brink of folding. After a misprint on the promo poster, thousands attend the audition process in the hope of finding superstar glory and scoop up the $100,000 prize. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) and Gunter (Nick Kroll), Mike (Seth MacFarlane), Ash (Scarlett Johansson) and Johnny (Taron Egerton) are eventually selected, with Meena (Tori Kelly) used as a stagehand after bombing her audition due to nerves. With funds low and hope dwindling, Buster needs to make this show a success for this theatre to survive. Will this all-singing, all-dancing show become a smash hit success?
Not really. Sing is as vanilla, formulaic and uninspired as they come. Yes, it's harmless and perfectly acceptable for its young target audiences and this vibrant musical is bound to get them onside, with flashes of enjoyment and cheap laughs scored consistently - but it otherwise feels incredibly manufactured and cookie cutter, derivative of the more successful animations that have come before it. The story has so little substance outside of its central premise and the anthropomorphic characters are just as thinly-sketched; it exists only as an excuse to riff-off this main concept and in the most basic, entry-level form. It verges on boring and will be entirely forgotten within minutes of exiting the cinema; the re-watchability factor is certainly low in this The X Factor For Animals. I do want to stress that all of the above is adequate box ticking for the audiences this film is very firmly targeted at, but anyone no longer in primary school will probably struggle to find much in here that is worthy of their time.
Not helping matters is that this whole thing fumbles along, jumping from set piece to set piece like a dot to dot, all wrapped up in a film that only occasionally comes together, most notably during the final twenty minutes. It's here that the film finally gets to the scenes that it has been clumsily chasing and desperately searching for, but it feels like too little too late in the game. We can probably find a more successful picture with some heavy trimming to the runtime (about twenty minutes of it should be cut out the first and second acts) but I doubt any editing, chopping and hacking away can find any originality in Sing; it is the exact same issue that befell The Secret Life of Pets in the summer of last year. Maybe Illumination are always destined to be a second, maybe even third, rate Disney, no matter how hard they try (or do not, as is evident in Sing).
It's not all bad, as I say, and I am most definitely not this film's primary, or even secondary, audience. As well as likeable voice cast delivering decent enough performances here, Sing is a visually-pleasing picture and the animation is brought to live vividly and with striking pops of colour, even on half the budget of your standard Disney flick. The music populating Sing offers a jukebox of famous pop hits and brings a whole new meaning to "my anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hun" - the whole audition montage, as seen in the film's trailers and promotional work, is a high moment in the film actually but, once again, it's the exact same mistake The Secret Life of Pets made in playing their hand to early and leaving the final product as some what of a disappointment, in being unable to conjure the same charm they've already given away in the marketing.
Sing, and Illumination in general, seem satisfied in delivering an animation as by-the-numbers as possible, which in turn provides them with yet another middle of the road, mediocre picture to add to their dry filmography. Maybe we have come to expect too much from the genre, what with Disney (and Pixar's) pushing the bar for success to astronomical heights, but family-friendly entertainment should be better than this. Sing is unoriginal and pedestrian and even with sparks of charm found every now and then, does little to convince you that Illumination are catching up with Disney. It shouldn't always be a competition, but if it was, Illumination is the Dawn of Justice to Disney's own Civil War.
I also saw a minion or four at the start, so we were already on a bad footing.
Summary: Sing is a bland, unoriginal animation that feels as by-the-numbers as they come; not even a solid voice cast and vibrant animation can help this film reach the right notes.
Highlight: The credits rolling? Nah, the final twenty minutes are strong enough to frustrate you that the rest of the picture wasn't better or demand a refund.