[Screen It]


(2016) (voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon) (PG)

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Animated Comedy/Musical: A show business koala tries to save his theater by putting on a singing competition where the various animal contestants believe the cash prize is far larger than it really is.
Buster Moon (voice of MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY) is a koala whose family has long been in show business, and his love of that stems from having watched his sheep friend Eddie Noodleman's (voice of JOHN C. REILLY) then young grandmother, Nana Noodleman (voice of JENNIFER SAUNDERS), perform onstage. Having inherited his father's theater but seeing attendance dwindle over the years, Buster wants to spruce things up and thus comes up with the idea of holding an "American Idol" sort of singing competition with the top prize being $1,000.

But his old assistant, Ms. Crawley (voice of GARTH JENNINGS), accidentally sets that amount at $100,000 and sends out the contest fliers that way, thus drawing lots of attention of singers of all sorts. There's Rosita (voice of REESE WITHERSPOON), a pig who hasn't had the time to be a singer, what with raising 25 piglets while her workaholic husband, Norman (voice of NICK OFFERMAN), is bringing home the bacon. Punk rocker porcupine Ash (voice of SCARLETT JOHANSSON) enters with her boyfriend, Lance (voice of BECK BENNETT), but eventually ends up going solo.

Mike (voice of SETH MacFARLANE) is a crooner mouse who makes ends meet by playing his saxophone on the streets for tips, but he's got a quick temper and an ego. Meena (voice of TORI KELLY) is just the opposite. While the elephant can sing, she has a debilitating case of stage fright that initially keeps her working backstage. Flamboyant German pig Gunter (voice of NICK KROLL) has no such problem, while gorilla Johnny (voice of TARON EGERTON) longs to be a singer, but his father, Big Daddy (voice of PETER SERAFINOWICZ), wants him to be part of his criminal gang as their getaway driver. As they and others try out, Buster keeps the high dollar typo secret from the contestants as the contest draws lots of attention.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
I've never really examined the human nature of comparing things. I guess some of it stems from instinct where our ancestors thousands of years ago wanted the best mate, food, shelter and such not only to survive but also to continue the species. Thus, the first comparison shoppers, if you will, were born long ago and such behavior continues to this day.

While any new person, product or service should be able to stand on its own, most everyone consciously or subconsciously compares whatever that might be to something similar that concurrently exists or preceded it by some amount of time. That can range from sports teams to cars and yes, you guessed it, movies. That's why moviegoers, or at least critics, like when something manages to feel fresh and novel, even if it's similar to something else.

Such was the case when I viewed "La La Land," the terrific new musical that's nothing short of creative, engaging and highly entertaining. I loved every minute of it, which is good news for it, but potentially bad news for anything cinema related that doesn't evoke something approximating the same level of artistry and viewer response.

Alas, such is the case with "Sing," a computer-animated offering about a figurative and literal menagerie of talking (and, natch, singing) animals who enter a singing competition. Think "Zootopia" meets "American Idol" or "The Voice" and you'll get the idea of where things are headed. Unfortunately, I had just seen "La La Land" before attending the screening of "Sing" and let's just say the comparison isn't at all favorable for the latter.

Yes, they're fairly different sorts of films aimed at significantly different audiences and thus one can't apply an apples to apples methodology when it comes to comparing the two. But when one is amazing and the other evokes not much more than a "meh" reaction, what's one to do? Even throwing out the Emma Stone/Ryan Gosling flick, this offering is no better than mediocre at best, and certainly pales in comparison to "Zootopia," "Kubo and the Two Strings" and other highly inventive animated offerings of 2016.

Some of that obviously stems from it arriving fairly late to the game in that such reality shows on TV are on the downhill slide from their popularity zenith years ago (which was presumably the time this vehicle got an enthusiastic green-light to proceed, forgetting or ignoring the fact that such large-scale animated flicks take years to bring to cinematic fruition). While little kids might eat up the sights and sounds of various animals belting out familiar songs, older kids and adults might not be quite as enamored.

That's especially true since nothing really that remarkable has been done with the covers of said tunes, unlike what, say, "Glee" did with them a few years back. If the singular idea of a gorilla singing Elton John's "I'm Still Standing," an egotistical mouse belting out "Let's Face the Music and Dance" and "My Way" or two pigs (one a flamboyant German one) singing and dancing to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" sounds a like a grand time at the movies, you're probably going to love this, and more power to you.

For me, that alone clearly isn't enough, and neither the script nor the direction by Garth Jennings goes far enough above and beyond the simple notion of singing animals to make this vehicle stand out, let alone fly. The plot is fairly bare bones as it revolves around a koala (voiced by Matthew McConaughey who does his best to do something with the material) whose inherited theater is on a downhill slide in terms of attendance.

He hopes to change that with an "Idol" sort of singing competition and thinks he's succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. But little does he initially realize that his old assistant (an iguana voiced by the filmmaker with a penchant for having her fake eye pop out at various moments) added two zeros to the cash prize and thus everyone is gunning for $100,000 rather than the intended $1,000.

All of the characters (Taron Egerton voicing the aforementioned gorilla, Reese Witherspoon and Nick Kroll doing the pigs, Seth MacFarlane voicing the crooner mouse, Scarlett Johansson as a punk rocker porcupine, and Tori Kelly voicing a stage-shy elephant with a great voice) have their various subplot stories, but they're meager at best and don't add much to the overall flavor.

The animation is solid, but pretty visuals can only get you so far. In the end, I wish I could sing high praises for "Sing," but if you want to see a terrific animated movie featuring singing, you should check out Disney's far superior "Moana" instead. This one is entertaining enough to eke out a meager 5 out of 10 score, but doesn't make it through to the final round of the best animated offering of 2016.

Reviewed November 29, 2016 / Posted December 21, 2016

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