Any movie populated by anthropomorphic koalas, singing gorillas and boasting the endorsement “feel good movie of the year” seems sure to be a carefree jaunt, right?
Garth Jennings’ Sing certainly doesn’t lack for jovial moments; in fact, it cavorts through so many upbeat pop tracks that at times it feels like listening to an extended mix -tape. It also contains some of the most eruditely nuanced characters and admirably grown-up storytelling of any recent animated movies, with narrative threads that feel like they have been pulled from a Paul Thomas Anderson or Robert Altman movie.
Consider the characters. The protagonist is a struggling, borderline shyster, theatre-owning koala (Matthew McConaughey) who attempts to drum up interest in his venue by holding a singing contest with a huge grand prize. He doesn’t have the money, but that doesn’t stop him, and his dreadful business acumen sees him constantly leaning on a young, arguably depressed, possibly teenage sheep (John C. Reilly) for money. A sheep whose wealthy parents have evicted him to the pool house where he enjoys moonlight, midnight swims and where he is joined often by the koala, who has, of course, scaled the fence to join him.
Seth McFarlane’s Frank Sinatra-esque mouse is a crooning busker who begins the movie literally mugging a monkey and who is in debt to the Russian mafia. He takes out a credit card to impress an attractive socialite mouse and gambles away his credit in the mafia-owned club, getting himself into even more debt with the Russian thugs.
Scarlett Johansson’s down-at-heel porcupine is in what is essentially an abusive relationship with the lead singer of her band, who dismisses her contributions out of hand and flagrantly cheats on her with other porcupines.
Taron Egerton, who has a heavenly singing voice by the way, appears as a sensitive cockney gorilla whose family of career criminals are planning the ultimate job that will see them set for life. Egerton is the gang’s getaway driver, only he dreams of a career on stage, despite the protests of his hard-as-nails father who isn’t shy about vocalising his disappointment in his son’s choice of hobby.
Reese Witherspoon’s pig is a mother and wife, run off her feet looking after her thirty or so kids and with a husband who fails to appreciate her hard work. At one point, she vacates the house, replacing herself with a machine that carries out domestic chores, with the outcome that her absence goes completely unnoticed by her entire family. Her only outlet is in the clandestine singing and dancing she enjoys away from her brood and blinkered partner.
These are not flimsy or underwritten characters, these are real people with problems and dilemmas, some of whom appear to trapped in something like a spiral of despair or undergoing existential crises. Garth Jennings, who wrote the screenplay as well as directed, deserves no small amount of credit for making his singing animals so complex.
These complexities add an extra level of interest to what feels like a pretty open and shut movie. A snazzy blitz through a host of pop songs reminiscent of the Day Today’s best of war soundtrack set “to the beat of a thousand pop classics”. It’s glitzy and buoyant, but it’s also unnerving and surprisingly adult.
| Chris Banks
Animation, musical, comedy |USA, 2016 | U| 27th January 2017(UK) | Universal Pictures |Dir.Christophe Lourdelet, Garth Jennings | Matthew McConaughney, Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane