In 10 Words or Less
Cute animals, a singing competition and a top-notch cast
Images are for illustration purposes only, and do not reflect the Blu-ray image quality
Loves: Animation, Nick Kroll
Likes: Illumination films, Scarlett Johansson
Dislikes: Singing competitions
Hates: Easy gags
After a long run atop mainstream popular culture, singing competitions have finally taken their long-awaited dive into semi-obscurity, with only The Voice hanging on as a ratings champ, thanks to the appeal of the all-star coaching staffs and a general lack of competition in the field. Considering the general apathy/exhaustion directed toward singing competitions, it probably wasn't the best time for a movie based on the reality-show concept, but here comes Illumination's Sing, a bend of Zootopia's anthropomorphic society and American Idol's offer of the dream of pop-music stardom.
It's not entirely fair to say that, mainly because there is no TV show in Sing. Rather, it's a theatrical talent competition, put together by Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey, at his least McConaughey yet), a koala whose father busted his fuzzy hump at the family car wash to help his son open the Moon Theater, which he's driven into the ground with a string of box-office failures. He comes upon the bright idea to put on a singing competition with a grand prize that gets exaggerated thanks to his feeble assistant Miss Crawley (director Garth Jennings), drawing everybody in down with a dream of stardom and, more importantly, big bucks.
Naturally, that group is huge. Though the film's core story, focusing on Buster's efforts to save his theater business through the singing competition, is straightforward and easy to follow, the bigger group of competitors threatens to be unwieldy. Using a visual take on the idea of scanning through the radio dial, the film quickly establishes all the main players and the obstacles to their dreams, including Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig with 25 kids and an unappreciative husband; Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla whose dad wants him in the family business--crime; Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rock porcupine with an unsupportive partner; Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a crooning mouse with an attitude many times larger than himself; and Meena (Tori Kelly), an insecure elephant.
Now, you might wonder, what about the dancing German pig who was in all the ads and trailers? You know, the guy who's dead center on the cover art and the main image on the back? Well, Gunther (Nick Kroll) is mainly a sight gag, and is never, in any significant way, developed as a character. The filmmakers knew what they were doing when they peppered him throughout the film, as his every appearance is guaranteed laughter from the younger viewers in the audience. It wouldn't have taken much to give him more dimension than bluster and a funny accent, but he's just a clown, here for your amusement.
The film tries to straddle the line between story and simple crowd-pleasing, never afraid to use a device as base as a fart joke, but also getting into real emotion, as the characters try to achieve their goals. Of course, the music is the main draw, and the film has more recognizable hit songs in its soundtrack than just about any film in history. A healthy portion of the budget had to go toward paying for music rights, which pays off, as Egerton and Kelly's voices are magnificent in singing the songs of Elton John and Stevie Wonder, while Witherspoon does a surprisingly solid Taylor Swift. Johansson is no slouch either, getting the film's key original song, "Set it All Free." Its catchiness shouldn't surprise, considering it's written by the same guy (Dave Bassett) behind the big hits "Ex's and Oh's" and "Fight Song" (though it does feature one of the most egregious forced-rhymes ever.) As we've heard MacFarlane's jazz before, his ability is less revelatory, even if his "My Way" is pretty great.
The only issue with Sing--and it's a pretty big one--is that it's utterly predictable. If you're paying attention, you know exactly where this film is going way in advance, and pretty much everything follows just as you would expect it would. Nothing about the plot surprised, but honestly, it didn't matter much. The film is a genuine crowd-pleaser, giving the viewer just what it wants, and wrapping it all in melodious music, not to mention some truly impressive animation, with the action scenes (particularly the film's signature set-piece) being masterfully rendered and choreographed. It's not the most challenging film ever, but boy does it feel good to watch.
The film arrives on a Blu-Ray disc and a DVD, in a standard-width, dual-hubbed BD keepcase (in an embossed, holofoil slipcover) with a promotional insert. The Blu-ray sports a simplified version of the Universal curve menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust the subtitles and check out the extras. The disc offers audio in English Dolby Atmos, Spanish Dolby 7.1, French Dolby 5.1 and Descriptive Video Service, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French and Spanish.
The 1080p, AVC-encoded 1.85:1 transfer here is a great way to appreciate all the visual sparks that the film throws your way. Sing's cartoonish take on photorealism is loaded with tons of detail and bright color, whether in the gorgeous architecture of the city, the fur and so forth of the animals or the varied costumes worn by the characters, which utilize a wide range of textures and styles. The image quality really lets the fine-grain animation work shine, especially the impressive depiction of fluid (an Illumination strength.) Strong saturation and appropriate hues ensure everything looks great, whether in the more vivid daytime scenes or the darker evening moments, when deep black levels ensure proper delineation, with the dark hair of the gorillas offering a challenge the presentation meets handily. Digital distractions are not a concern, though there was one moment of slowdown during a particularly hectic scene.
The Dolby Atmos track will resolve to a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 presentation for the majority of the audience, and the sound is fantastic, giving the film's copious musical tracks the right soundstage, while keeping all elements well separated. Bass kicks in when appropriate, giving weight to larger characters' presence and voices, as well as selling the film's action scenes, which are quite boisterous. Atmospheric effects are often in play to fill out a scene (thanks to the busy city settings), while dialogue is strong and well-positioned, with the scenes set in the Moon Theater sounding particularly well-crafted.
- Three Mini-Movies
Once again, Illumination has offered no commentary, but as is usually the case, there are three mini-movies starring characters from the film.
- Gunter Babysits (3:47)
The flamboyant German makes a return appearance, this time as babysitter to Rosita's brood of piglets. Unsurprisingly, it's mostly about music, as Gunter uses the power of dance to overcome the kiddie chaos in this enjoyable short.
- Love at First Site (4:18)
The elderly Miss Crawley gets the spotlight this time, s she tries out online dating, with Johnny's assistance. Made up mainly of a montage of disastrous dates, it ends up being cute, making Miss Crawley more likable than she was in the film.
- Eddie's Life Coach (4:16)
Picking up on a line of dialogue from Buster's best friend Eddie (John C,. Reilly), this short follows the sheep as he gets his act together, with the assistance of a virtual mentor. Though still mostly a montage, there's more story to this one, even if it ends with a bit of a thud.
- The Making of the Mini-Movies (5:54)
In what's a slightly shorter version of the same-titled extra on The Secret Life of Pets, tHe folks behind Illumination and the shorts talk about the the origins of and thoughts that went into the three films, as well as how the projects bring together its American and French creative teams.
- The Making of Sing (4:39)
Hear from Illuminations founder Chris Meledandri, producer Janet Healy and director Garth Jennings, as they discuss the development of the plot and the casting of the film, with looks at Kroll, Kelly and McConaughey faux-recording lines. Jennings also talks about translating his live-action experience to tackling his first animated film, while providing looks at concept art for the movie.
- Finding the Rhythm: Editing Sing (2:44)
This short featurette allows editor Gregory Perler to share some thoughts about the art and process of editing an animated movie, including some examples of the craft from Sing.
- Character Profiles (12:24)
This six-part featurette (available with a "view all" option) offers interviews with McConaughey, Witherspoon, Kelly, Egerton, Kroll and Jenning, in which they talk about their characters and their stories in the film, including how they relate to their role. Kroll is naturally the most enjoyable, as he jokes around about his porcine alter ego.
- "Don't You Worry ‘Bout a Thing" Music Video (3:11)
A movie tie-in music video with Kelly singing her quality cover of the Stevie Wonder song sees her dancing around a stark white loft as art from the film splashes around, coloring in the scene. The video is OK, while the song is quite enjoyable.
- "Making a Video with Tori Kelly (2:52)
A very brief look at the making of the video features on-set footage and chats with Kelly and director Alan Bibby. There's not a lot to the video, so there's not a lot to say about it here.
- "Faith" Music Video (2:46)
Another blending of animation and live-action, and another Stevie Wonder song, but this time he's singing, and he's joined by Ariana Grande, on a legitimately fun and funky track. In a world where "Happy" was a massive hit, this song deserved more attention.
- "Faith" Lyric Video (2:46)
If you didn't get enough of this song, or have an aversion to seeing Grande and Wonder, there's a text-animation version to check out.
- "Set it All Free" Lyric Video (3:40)
And if you want more texty fun, ScarJo's song from the film gets the same treatment. It's your opportunity to really try and figure out why they thought it was a good idea to attempt and rhyme "far" and "target". Or you can ignore that and enjoy a fun pop song.
- "Faith" Sing and Dance! (6:31)
One assumes they wanted to get the most out of the Wonder/Grande collaboration, so yet another featurette focuses on it, this time with three dancers showing how to perform special choreography for it, based on the dancing in the film. To call it complicated would be an understatement, but it certainly looks impressive.
- The Sing Network
Cut from footage in the film, this is a series of fake television commercials from inside the world of Sing, featuring Gunter's Dance Studio (1:22), the Moon Theater (:43), Rosita's Babysitting Gizmo (1:03), Miss Crawley's Matchmaking Service (:55) and seven Behind the Music-style teasers (9:09), promoting the stories of the now famous performers. Amusing, but not essential.
- The Best of Gunter (1:03)
As with The Secret Life of Pets, this disc has a montage of moments from the film's most outrageous character. Nothing new, nothing additional. Just all the big lines in one place.
- Ultraviolet Code
A code for a stream and download, as well as a bonus code for a free movie (titles were unavailable at the time of this writing.)
The Bottom Line
Based on its recent output, Illumination is carving out a spot for itself by serving up easy-to-digest crowd-pleasing fare, hitting topics everyone likes, like dogs and pop-music, with less story-centric films. And the results, which feature tremendous animation, are hitting the right notes (sorry), with fun, if forgettable productions. The Blu-ray looks and sounds terrific, though the extras are more brief and more kid-friendly than adult fans of animation are likely to appreciate. With the right mindset, Sing makes for an enjoyable evening of family viewing, with songs that will stick with you for a while after.