It’s not you Sing, it’s me.
There is, on the face of it, nothing by necessity wrong with Sing as it exists. It is exactly as its creators intended it to be. A feature-length adaptation of that part at the end of every animated movie where all the characters break into a licensed pop song, this thing seems absolutely designed to be a holiday hit.
It’s got a cast of celebrities from all walks of life (Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Reese Witherspoon). It’s got a whole gaggle of popular songs (all coincidentally owned by Universal Music Group, the conglomerate that made this film). It’s got a script that’s not too offensive or challenging, seems designed for literally every person in the audience to get something out of, and just ultimately ends up being designed to become the perfect puff of ephemera. Leave the theater going “Oh, that was nice” and never think about it again.
Which is not necessarily something wrong with Sing. It is what it is, it’s a product, slick and manicured to be exactly what it’s supposed to be. If that’s what you need, then go for it. But talking about it feels less like talking about art and more like talking about a toaster. All its features work and are in the right place, but there’s nothing interesting there. It’s a thing you buy and shove away except the occasional times that you may end up needing it.
It’s my problem because I ultimately think we as an audience do deserve better than a film like this. Children specifically deserve better and they’ve been given better too. 2016 is full of films that grapple with more difficult things and films that challenge and reward kids while never losing a sense of wonder or fun. Wafting a bit of snake oil under their noses feels like a step backwards.
Snake oil is really what this is, you can see whatever you want in it. Look at the emotional arcs that make up this film, it seems like a lab took a cross section of what an average family might be feeling at any given time and made sure they had something in the movie for them.
Are you a father/son who just wants your son/father to know that you’re proud of him/you want to hear he’s proud of you for who you are? Then Johnny (Taron Egerton) and his father (Peter Serafinowicz) have a storyline for you.
Are you a sullen teenager who needs to find your own voice and went through hard romantic times? You’ll feel just like Ash (Scarlett Johansson)!
How about an underappreciated mother? That’s Rosita (Reese Witherspoon). Ooh, maybe you feel like your dreams aren’t working out? Then that’s architect of the whole singing competition that brings these characters together, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey). Way too scared to live your dreams? There’s Meena (Tori Kelly). What about if you’re just an asshole? Then you’ve got Mike (Seth MacFarlane, slowly living his dream of becoming Frank Sinatra).
There’s nothing wrong with having any of those things, the problem is that the way the movie handles it is like throwing cooked spaghetti at the wall, you’re just trying to see if it sticks. There’s so much noise here, desperately and vainly hoping that any one of the things they’re doing is resonating with people in the audience. Sing is trying so hard to make sure that people like it that it forgets to dive in, it gives these storylines glances just to make sure you understand enough that it’ll have its necessary effect.
Sing is a pop crowd pleaser at its heart, working overtime to give itself to everyone. We’re not even getting into the musical sections yet, oriented as big show-stopper jukebox numbers, feeling like a series of animated musical videos over anything integrated. They essentially stop the narrative to watch a concert play out over familiar songs which especially holds true in the singing competition audition scene. This feels less like a look at a group of eclectic characters, but rather like flipping through the radio and finding nothing on you particularly want to listen to.
Also that scene put “Butterfly” back into the cultural aether so screw you Sing.
It’s also a crowd pleaser given its celebrity loaded cast. And like most celebrity loaded casts, it’s pretty much just about getting the name on the marquee. No one is doing anything particularly interesting, but hey, at least everyone’s got good singing voices. MacFarlane is no surprise doing his Sinatra thing, Johansson sounds good depending on what they have her doing (though pop-punk does her no favors), Kelly and Witherspoon are exactly as good as you would expect. It’s there to please and to recognize, not to actually do or use anything.
I just feel exhausted talking about this, honestly. There’s nothing here. It’s a shallow film in a year that had films of great depth doing everything this movie is trying to do. It’s working overtime marketing-wise and will succeed where far better movies have failed. It’s exactly what it’s marketing itself as and there are no surprises and nothing intriguing, but it’s loud and shiny and a lot of parents and well-meaning relatives will take their kids to it. Which should be no surprise coming out of Illumination, the creator of Minions, that yellow horrorspawn.
But this year, there’s been better. You want to see a family-friendly musical? Sing Street or La La Land. You want to see a great animated movie? Moana or Zootopia or Kubo and the Two Strings. You want a family movie? Pete’s Dragon or Hunt for the Wilderpeople! There’s so much that makes Sing unnecessary for those who actually care and for those who don’t you can still do better.
Sing is the ultimate “Just don’t think about it, enjoy it!” experience this year. Smoothly produced product that just wants basic reaction and nothing else, to give you exactly what you expect. But that is anathema to what film can and should be, being entertained ABSOLUTELY does not mean that you shouldn’t be challenged or hell, that you shouldn’t demand quality or surprise. Sing is boring and pointless, and there’s better out there in theaters and at home right now. Ask for more.