PLOT An animated musical about five animals — mouse, elephant, pig, porcupine and gorilla — who enter a singing competition.
CAST Voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane
RATED PG (brief rude humor and mild scares)
BOTTOM LINE A genuine crowd-pleaser, with sparkling characters, feel-good tunes and a big-hearted spirit.
“A singing contest? Who wants to see another one of those?” So says Eddie the sheep to Buster the show-biz koala in the animated musical comedy “Sing.” Perhaps you feel the same way after 15 seasons of “American Idol” and its countless knockoffs. If so, this irresistible film about five vocally gifted animals just might change your tune.
Pop, rock and swing — all verbs as well as nouns — set the pace for this vibrant musical. Set in a busy metropolis whose palm trees and ocean views suggest the wild kingdom of Los Angeles, “Sing” opens with a whirlwind sequence that will quickly introduce you to your favorite character. Adults may go for Rosita (the voice of Reese Witherspoon), a stay-at-home sow with 25 piglets, or Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a dapper street mouse who croons like Sinatra. Teens may prefer Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla whose black biker jacket belies a sweet set of pipes, or Meena (Tori Kelly), a painfully shy elephant with a trumpeting gospel voice. If any animal could have carried her own movie, though, it’s Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rock porcupine who bristles with rage.
Bringing them all together is that koala, Buster Moon, a theater owner with boundless optimism but negative cash flow. His voice, so full of infectious energy and kindness, comes from Matthew McConaughey, and it may be among the actor’s best work. Voices and characters are rarely as perfectly paired as they are here; other examples include John C. Reilly as Buster’s sheep buddy and Jennifer Saunders (“Absolutely Fabulous”) as an opera-singing ewe.
“Sing” features a soundtrack calibrated for maximum crowd appeal. There are covers of classics (Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing”) and recent hits (Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me”), an original pop-rock number (Ash’s “Set It All Free”) and several dozen snippets of everything from Digital Underground to Men Without Hats. A few choices seem played out — namely, Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” — but at least this animated film doesn’t go back to the well of disco as so many others do.
Written and directed by Garth Jennings (music videos for Beck and R.E.M.) with lively animation by Illumination Entertainment (“The Secret Life of Pets”), “Sing” genuinely sparkles from start to finish. It’s one big-hearted, warm and very fuzzy musical.