Sunday, May 26, 2024

‘Sing 2’ Faithfully Stays on Book

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Sing 2 is a harmless sequel about a group of characters who remind me of The Muppets without distinctive personalities. Instead, these are movies about well-meaning average animal folk whose only desire is to put on a show and have it be a success. But, happily, they measure success not by profit made but by the crowd’s roar of approval, no matter the size.

Garth Jennings doesn’t waste much time in exposition and wastes even less time setting up characters. This is party because Jennings, who also wrote the script, assumes anybody seeing Sing 2 has almost surely seen Sing. But also because these characters, as lovable as they are, aren’t that deep. I wouldn’t even go so far as to say personalities even easily define them.

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Left to right: Gunter (Nick Kroll), Buster (Matthew McConaughey), and Ash (Scarlett Johansson)

We have the ring leader, the wonderfully named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), a fluffy well-meaning koala who simply wants his players to be appreciated for the superstars he knows they are. The theater company consists of Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig, Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla, Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant, and Gunter (Nick Kroll), another pig.  

Buster and the gang go to Redshore City, the movie’s version of Las Vegas, hoping to get an audition for the infamously blood-thirsty producer Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a wolf. I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed that there was no “Get the standard Rich & Famous contracts drawn up” line. But there is a moment where after losing Jimmy’s favor, Buster swears he has a new show idea starring the legendary Clay Calloway (Bono).

Jennings divides the movie into two parts: One part deals with Ash and Buster attempting to hunt down the reclusive Clay Calloway, an aging lion who has gone into hiding after his wife died. The other part is Buster’s attempt to write and produce a brand new show written by Gunter in a matter of weeks. I liked the parts where they tried to put on a show, not so much the Clay Calloway stuff; it came off as schmaltzy and too calculated.

You will not be surprised to hear that all of Clay Calloway’s songs are, in fact, Bono songs with Bono doing acoustic covers of them as the rockin’ melancholic lion. However, there are some highlights; the real star is Buster’s assistant, the delightfully absent-minded but joyously reliable and competent Miss Crawly, voiced by Jennings himself. Miss Crawly is an elderly Iguana with a glass eye which somehow manages to always be three steps behind everyone else while also being exactly where she needs to be at the same time.

Buster even puts Miss Crawly in charge of putting on the show, and it turns out she is a natural director. A benevolent dictator with an eye-patch and a bull horn, she zips around the set barking orders and making sure the set designers, prop masters, and stars are all coming along as scheduled. The eye patch is a clever little nod to directors of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Directors like Raoul Walsh and Nicholas Ray who famously began sporting eye patches in their old age. All she was missing was a cigarette dangling from her bottom lip that magically never seemed ever to fall.

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The cast of Sing 2 gets ready to put on a show

The show itself, and all its little backstage drama, including Rosita being replaced by Porsha (Halsey), Jimmy’s spoiled daughter, only to have them switch places again at the last minute, is not only charming but left me with a smile on my face. Jennings and his animators at times make the fur on Buster, the quills on Ashe, seem almost lifelike. Yet, at the same time, the skin of both Rosita and Gunter seems plastic-like. Granted, I can imagine not wanting to make the skin of the pig characters more realistic would damage the soothing colorful aesthetic. 

But it’s the colors and the visuals of the show itself that raises Sing 2 above its predecessor. Jennings and his animators create a harlequin color palette and swinging camera movements that are shrewdly calculated to release gallons of dopamine in your brain. At least it did for me.

It feels weird to say, but I loved every moment of the show these critters put on. I recognize the cold, cynical market research to death aspects of Sing 2. But I didn’t care, that show was a genuine show-stopper, and I couldn’t help but be entranced by every soothing pop number and every kaleidoscopic visual montage. 

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Ash (Johansson) and Clay Calloway (Bono) sing a duet

More than anything else, the last ten to fifteen minutes make everything else worthwhile. Even the darker moments where the movie comes very close to having one character murder another one can’t derail the almost maniacal warm and fuzzies created by the show at the end of Sing 2.

Jennings and Illumination Studios don’t color outside the lines in Sing 2. But this sequel has a beguiling manner that makes it impossible not to find even a little enjoyment. Jennings and his animators are tapping into something as old as Gene Kelly and Judy Garland in Summer Stock; the joy of creating something. In these trying times, it’s nice to be reminded of the little joys in creating, performing, and wanting to be entertained. 

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures

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