Illumination Entertainment, the animation studio responsible for the Despicable Me films, Minions, The Secret Life of Pets, and The Lorax isn’t here to change your life. This isn’t Pixar. These movies have not been made to be profound, carrying a deeper message about your life. These movies are made for the attention spans of a child in 2016. They are non-stop jokefests meant to make a lot of money and, hopefully, entertain. That’s it. And that’s a pretty good prediction of what will happen when Sing, the new animated feature that just debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival, hits theaters on December 21.
On Sunday, I attended the afternoon premiere of Sing at the Princess of Wales Theatre. I mention this because this is the perfect environment to watch Sing. The last 30 minutes of Sing is basically an animated rock concert and is the best 30 minutes Illumination has ever produced. It’s a legitimate showstopper, and the audience was into it, breaking out in applause at the end of every performance. It was a fun environment and a fun experience. I cannot guarantee that you will have a similar environment, but if you decide to see Sing (if you have children, you probably will have no choice), see this with a large crowd. Those last 30 minutes are a hoot.
The problem is, it feels like someone came up with the idea of an animated rock concert before there was really a story. Everything that comes before is just an excuse for those last 30 minutes to exist. Basically, until the end, it’s non-stop zingers doused in eye-candy: You know, an Illumination film.
You know how a lot of modern animated films set in fanciful worlds will try to offer some sort of explanation why this is happening? In Toy Story, the toys come alive when humans aren’t around. In Inside Out, all of these creatures live inside a human’s brain. In Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, humans exist and should be avoided. Sing, on the other hand, is a throwback in the fact that all these animals just exist, speak English, and coexist in a city. There is no explanation (not that there needs to be, I’ve just gotten used to them), this is just the universe these animals live in.
Buster Moon (Mathew McConaughey) is a koala who owns a local theatre that’s deeply in debt. To raise visibility (and hopefully money), Buster decides to hold a singing competition, kind of like American Idol, though the rules are never really explained and the animals that are chosen for the final competition all seem really arbitrary. This all sounds fun! But Sing doesn’t just stick to the absurdity of a singing competition for animals and instead delves into the personal lives of all the final contestants.
Johnny, a gorilla (Taron Egerton), has a criminal father who doesn’t love him. Mike, a mouse (Seth MacFarlane), owes money to a criminal gang of bears. (There are a lot of criminals in Sing.) Ash, a porcupine (Scarlett Johansson), is having problems with her boyfriend. Rosita, a pig (Reese Witherspoon), has 25 children. And Meena, an elephant (Tori Kelly), is shy. And Sing spends a lot of time on these plot points before we get to the final concert.
You know what? Whatever. I tend to get into a mindset that animated movies are for me because so many of them made today blur that line of children and adult entertainment. Pixar has mastered the art of films that work on two different levels. It’s remarkable. Sing, on the other hand, isn’t for me. Sing is specifically made for children and parents who enjoy watching their child have a good time. And there were a lot of children at the premiere on Sunday and I didn’t hear any of them complaining about character development and underlying themes. They were too busy cheering.
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.