Talking animals have always been a staple—if not the default subjects—of cartoons, their appeal reduced to a confluence of familiar species behaviors and anthropomorphic acting out. This particular credo became even more pronounced as CGI made those behaviors more lifelike, thus throwing into greater comic relief the attributes associated with human emotional reaction, especially those that tend to be exaggerated on film. Animation studio Illumination’s 2016 box office hit Sing took this formula and pumped it up with popular songs that everyone knew and, presumably, loved, and then incorporated it all into a trite tale about a local theater impresario, a koala named Buster Moon, trying to save his dying venue by staging an amateur singing competition and, in the process, discovering all this local talent just bursting with latent star power. Which brings us to the last component of animal-oriented CGI animated features: A-listers doing the voices of these characters, which in this instance meant they also got to show off their singing chops.
Sing was fine in that it touched all the requisite comedy bases thanks to a screwball approach to dialogue, and while these elements are retained in Sing 2, the basic gimmick no longer has a purchase on the material. If anything, the sequel is even triter and less imaginative than the original. Having saved his theater and made local stars of some residents, Buster (Matthew McConaughey) sets his sights on bringing his show to the big time, which in this universe is a Vegasy metropolis called Red Shore. Being local stars means nothing in the naked city, and much of the movie is given over to contrasting the naive sensibility of Buster’s revue with the super sophisticated (read: utterly cynical) professionalism of the Red Shore stage aesthetic as epitomized by the sensibility of the Mafioso-wolf hotelier Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale). Desperate to get a chance at putting his group of misfits on Crystal’s stage, Buster desperately promises to secure the services of Clay Calloway, a legendary lion-singer-songwriter who has been MIA for at least a decade. Buster lies and says he knows Calloway and can get him in his show, and Crystal assents with hints of violence if Buster doesn’t come through. Consequently, the movie shuttles between the porcupine punk rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson) hunting Calloway down and trying to persuade him to come out of retirement, and the antics of her fellow Buster-managed singers trying to get up the nerve and wherewithal to learn a new act (some weird sci-fi-themed musical) that will wow the Red Shore regulars. But whereas the cast of mammals (with a few reptiles and birds thrown in) was kinda cute the first time, here they’re just annoying. The only compelling character is Jimmy’s daughter Porsha, who is promised a central role in Buster’s production because daddy demands it and is talent-challenged though utterly game. As voiced by the pop star Halsey (meaning, not primarily an actor, like almost everyone else), Porsha is a millennial version of all those characters Judy Holliday played in the 1940s and 50s, and she’s a trip. However, this cognitive dissonance has the opposite effect when it comes to another cast member whose day job is singing. Once you realize that it’s Bono doing Clay Calloway, it’s all you can think of. Talk about being driven to distraction.
Now playing in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Shinjuku Wald 9 (03-5369-4955), Shinjuku PIccadilly (050-6861-3011), Toho Cinemas Shinjuku (050-6868-5063), Toho Cinemas Shibuya (050-6868-5002), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Sing 2 home page in Japanese
photo (c) 2021 Universal Studios