Sing Voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson. Directed by Garth Jennings. Rated PG. Opens December 21 citywide.
To paraphrase George Orwell, if you want a picture of the future of Hollywood animated movies, imagine a cartoon pig belting out a Taylor Swift song—forever. That’s the dystopian nightmare offered by Sing, the latest production from Illumination Entertainment, which has already inflicted the Minions upon the world. Simultaneously plotless and filled with far too many plots, Sing is basically American Idol with animated anthropomorphic animals, set in an animal-filled metropolis (a pale reflection of the inventiveness on display in Zootopia) where koala stage impresario Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) devises a singing competition as a way to save his failing theater.
The movie lines up a variety of contestants who have the kind of carefully crafted backstories cultivated by reality-TV producers, but each one only gets enough screen time for very broad resolutions of those simplistic stories. And the movie’s overarching plot amounts to very little, as Buster attempts to mount a hit that can prevent his theater from foreclosure. The story evokes the “let’s put on a show” narratives of classic musicals, but the style is all crass 2016 Hollywood, with a soundtrack full of squeaky-clean, soulless versions of pop songs (sometimes just brief snippets) sung by a range of cartoon animals (including, in a recurring gag, a group of borderline racist Japanese red pandas). The movie bombards the audience with familiar songs, shamelessly pandering to each potential demographic.
Like Buster himself, the movie is only interested in filling seats, not in any kind of artistry. Writer-director Garth Jennings created a tribute to ramshackle creativity with his 2007 live-action movie Son of Rambow, but everything about Sing, from the character design to the song choices to the storytelling, is commercialized and homogenized, interested only in the bottom line. When other animated movies end with the characters performing some incongruous feel-good musical number as the credits roll, at least it’s possible to walk out of the theater remembering the preceding story. Sing amounts to one of those musical numbers stretched out over nearly two hours. It pummels the audience into submission, and then expects to be cheered on for an encore.