Sing


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I would suggest there currently are six animation studios with a reputation that promises quality; Ghibli, Aardman, Kubo and the Two Strings‘ Laika, Cartoon Saloon – the Irish company that made Secret of the Kells and Song of the Sea, Pixar (even with their recent inconsistency) and Disney. The two big ones notable by their absence from that list are Dreamworks and Illumination. Dreamworks gave us How to Train Your Dragon, Rise of the Guardians and maybe two good Shrek films but generally their films are at best undemanding and at worst annoying. Illumination on the other hand have just turned out a series of underwritten, over performing, laboured and narratively obvious pap. Sorry but I’m not a big fan of the Minions. .

So it was that when Illumination started running the trailers for their new film Sing back in the Summer I didn’t expect great things. My seven year old daughter, who is admittedly more the target audience, was excited but to me it looked as though they were going their usual route of taking one idea that couldn’t hope to sustain a feature length film and throwing in some big name voice actors and an exuberant dance number. 

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Then I heard it was being directed by Garth Jennings, the guy who a decade ago made a quirky mark on the British film industry with Son of Rambow and The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (apologies to the Douglas Adams purists but I really liked that movie). It also started getting some good reviews. Entertainment Weekly described it as ‘sweet and charming’, The Times said it was ‘good fun’ and Empire magazine found it ‘immensely likeable’. It appeared that I had judged it prematurely.

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As it turns out I should have trusted my instincts.

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The set up is typically straight forward. It’s about a Koala called Buster who runs a failing theatre and in one last attempt to keep his showman (showmarsupial) dreams alive he decides to run an amateur singing competition. It riffs on TV talent shows but not in a particularly smart way, isn’t really funny, it holds no surprises whatsoever and none of the characters are very endearing. They don’t really do anything with the world of anthropomorphic animals they have created but actually if they didn’t have that then they wouldn’t even have been particularly likeable. At least they were kind of cute. It is possible to feel some sympathy for shy elephant Meena or put upon pig mother Rosita but Buster is selfish and criminally irresponsible and two of the other animals, a gorilla and a mouse are actually criminals.

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One of the main draws of the film is the starry voice cast comprising of Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Reece Witherspoon, Taron Egerton, Seth MacFarlane, John C. Reilly, Tori Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz and Jennifer Saunders among others but none of them are doing inspiring work here. Several of them have done vocal parts before and have been much better. 

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The one thing they can do when they need to is sing. This is the one aspect in which the film is successful. So often my heart sinks when an animated movie feels the need to throw a song and dance party in at the end. The last Kung Fu Panda did it, as did Megamind, Chicken Little, Horton Hears a Who, both Despicable Mes, Shrek 1, 2 and 4, all the Madagasgars, Gnomeo & Juliet, Rio, Ice Age something, Toy Story 2, Fantastic Mr. Fox (although that may have been ironic) and Zootropolis (which incidentally is the definitive talking animal movie). It is fair to say it has become a bit of a cliche. Here though it is the whole point. There are five big numbers at the end and they are all quite fun. It’s just a shame they couldn’t build a better film around them. 

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Is this one for the kids?
My daughter quite enjoyed it but while she has been periodically asking to watch the clips on IMDb since July, having seen it she is now done with it. Compare that to Moana which she is still talking about eight weeks after she saw it.

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The Ripley Factor:
There’s a small feminist strand to the film surrounding the pig Rosita. Her husband doesn’t appreciate her and expects her to do all the cleaning and childcare while he’s at work. It’s hardly a revolutionary story thread though, certainly nothing to sing about.

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