Illumination has made its business telling beautifully animated stories; vocals are as animated as the images on the screen. Story-wise, they peaked with the nefariousness of Gru and his minions in the first “Despicable Me.” Villains haven’t become as fun-loving since Gru. However, Illumination reached deep into their soul (no pun intended, Pixar), and in 2016, they tapped into the consciousness of the moving going public, getting our feet to tap to “Sing,” where stage fright keeps a troupe of animals from their dreams. Back for a second round, Buster Moon, Rosita, Ash, Meena, and the rest of the gang are back to swoon you in “Sing 2.”
Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), having pushed through his stage fright in “Sing,” is poised to put on a new show. It’s a solid production with one little problem: critics, not unlike me, shoot the showdown before it has a chance to get off the ground. Suki, the critic, says that Buster wouldn’t even make it in Redshore City. Undeterred and believing that he has what it takes, he gets the band back together (I think I need to watch “The Blues Brothers” soon), and they all trot off to Redshore City in the hopes of making it big.
Writer-director Garth Jennings returns to the stage, orchestrating one disaster scene to the next. No, the film isn’t disastrous, but the feeling of disappointment sets in quickly after being panned and coincidentally dragged across half the city by Suki (Chelsea Peretti). The opening sequence and the closing number are visually the best bits of the film. Jennings, who also voices Miss Crawly, does an excellent job of bookending the story. It’s the bits in the middle, which feel like a take on Frank Oz’s “The Muppets Take Manhattan”: we are our own worst enemy sometimes, especially when we put ourselves out there.
The passion Buster Moon feels for his works seeps into our hearts; we believe him when he says he can mount a production the likes no one has ever seen. Jennings puts extra emphasis on the supporting characters as they zoom into a Las Vegas-like Redshore City where they come face to face with Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), the media mogul behind Crystal Entertainment, who demands a lot and takes no prisoners. Cannavale leaves an impression, and I assure you it’s not from his security guards shoving anyone. There’s a toothsome slinkiness to his character. It isn’t on the same level as Gru, but Crystal is a memorable character.
The supporting voice cast comes on strong; Reese Witherspoon’s Rosita has natural fears she needs to overcome, which leads to a conflict with Jimmy’s spoiled daughter, Porsha, voiced by Halsey. Scarlett Johansson rocks as Ash, a punk rock guitarist. Interestingly, I related the most to Tori Kelly’s Meena as she has her performance issues to overcome, attracting the attention of Alfonso, voiced by one of the franchise’s newcomers, Pharrell Williams. There’s an endearing quality between Meena and Alfonso, which the story, fortunately, doesn’t abandon.
“Sing 2” shines because it reminds us that we need each other, no matter what species of the animal kingdom or humanity from which we come. We can’t go it alone. To that end, Spike Jonze’s Jerry, Jimmy’s assistant, and Jennings’ Miss Crawly are given the most to do within the story – they both do what they must to protect their bosses.
It is where Miss Crawly is concerned. See, the production needs a big act, and only one will suffice: Clay Calloway, a lion, and a former rock legend are secluded. The story gives the details, but it is Miss Crawly who first makes overtures and an impression, driving her sports car like the wild animal she is . . . I’m getting carried away. Ash is the link between Buster and Calloway, and she steps up to the plate admirably, one of the film’s highlights.
Taron Egerton is back as Johnny, and he’s up to his antics. At the same time, Nick Kroll’s Gunter squares off with Adam Buxton’s Klaus Kickenklober (tee hee, what a creative character name!), a dance instructor who squares off with Gunter as he tries to teach him the finer points of dancing. Letitia Wright’s Nooshy draws Gunter’s attention in the right way.
Each character in “Sing 2” has an important role to play. But it feels like it’s shouting “Places!” every five minutes and drags down what would be an otherwise brilliant story. There is no “I” in teamwork, something Buster understands. Our dreams and aspirations won’t ever come true if we don’t try, and the film’s emphasis on teamwork is every bit as important as the fantastic contribution by Bono.
Buster Moon should be this story’s nucleus. The character is present at the beginning and the end. However, Garth sidelines him as each supporting character comes into their own. The focus on the secondary characters should work as a strength, but it also causes me to question Buster’s worth ethic. Was Suki right? Of course not. Buster pulls a magic act; he is the vision, and he needs his team to get the job done, but he doesn’t feel like Kermit in “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”
“Sing 2” reminds us that as much as we need each other, we are our own best cheerleaders, and if we aren’t willing to see the wolf for what it is, we’re going to get swallowed whole. It takes strategy and vision to see the dream through, something the story doesn’t lean on enough. In this case, as much as I liked Mr. Crystal and adored Clay Calloway, the film focuses too much on individual challenges and not the production as a whole.
Even though the kid in me appreciated “Sing 2,” our internal struggles are our greatest enemy; we have to push every day. Yet, we need a wolf to convince us to move on. If you’re unwilling to do it, you won’t make it in Redshore City.
Or anywhere, for that matter.