Failed impresario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has a brainwave: to revive the fortunes of his ailing theatre with a singing competition; one that attracts a motley crew of animal entrants.
Garth Jennings’ last movie was the heart-warming and imaginative Son Of Rambow, a small but perfectly formed personal film that served both as an antidote to his first, the fun but flawed adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, and a calling card for what he could do with gentler material. We waited with bated breath to see what he’d do next. And waited. And waited.
Finally, a decade on, he’s made his next move, and in a guise nobody could have expected. The path between animated films and live action has been well-trodden in recent years, but Jennings has become one of the few directors to cross in the opposite direction, rocking up at Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Studios.
Sing is a full-blown musical. But you may not be prepared for just how full-blown it is.
Illumination’s output over the years may have been wildly successful, but from a creative point of view their work has been middle of the road, bland and lacking in true inspiration. While Jennings’ presence hasn’t quite led to a Pixar-level bump in quality, this is a clear step up from the likes of The Secret Life Of Pets and the endless Minions-related movies.
As the title might suggest, Sing is a full-blown musical. But you may not be prepared for just how full-blown it is. Across its 108 minutes blast some 84 songs. And while many of those come in snatches and bursts, that’s still almost a song per minute. On the surface, this doesn’t feel as close to Jennings’ heart as Son Of Rambow, but as a man who made his name as one half of Hammer & Tongs, creators of some of the ’90s most iconic pop videos (Blur’s Coffee & TV and Supergrass’ Pumping On Your Stereo among them), his love of music infuses every frame.
And this isn’t just a standard selection of modern chart hits, either — for every nod to Taylor Swift, there’s a deep cut album track from a musical legend. Any movie that places such importance on The Beatles’ excellent Golden Slumbers has its ears in the right place.
Jennings' love of music infuses every frame.
The musical onslaught is symptomatic of the film itself, which flits about furiously like a coked-up koala. Though McConaughey’s hyperactive Buster Moon is at the heart of the story, there are eight or nine principal characters (not counting substantial support from Peter Serafinowicz as a gruff Cockney silverback and Jennings himself as a batty lizard secretary) all vying for screentime. Jennings rarely cuts between them, instead sending his virtual camera hurtling through the city at breakneck speed from storyline to storyline. It can be a little dizzying.
Thankfully, those characters are entertaining enough to make the bombardment bearable. And even if the message ultimately peddled here is the same ‘believe in yourself’ self-help mantra as a thousand other animated movies, there are just enough unexpected quirks in the storytelling (let’s just say the singing contest doesn’t become the X Factor facsimile you might expect) and enough infectious fun to make it stand out. Don’t leave it another ten years, Mr. Jennings.
Although it’s like being assaulted by a jumping jukebox for two hours, Garth Jennings’ first animated movie has enough bounce and brio to carry the day. Immensely likeable.