2016’s Sing can be considered “The Greatest Hits of Every Children’s Film Ever.” You’ve got a disparate set of anthropomorphized animals brought together by a ringleader-type desperate to achieve a certain goal, and each of these folks has to deal with something holding them back from being who they truly want to be. As must happen in films like this, a big blow-up makes the whole crew walk away from the man in charge, which only gets resolved after a disaster and the emotional rush which finds them making their way back after realizing “This is what I’m meant to do/be!” The ragtag group conquers their fears and encourages each other to be their best, whereupon the feat is accomplished with grand jukebox musical style and gusto, and with everyone who doubted them turns 180° and professes undying love and support for these victors.
Sing 2 would be “Greatest Hits, Vol. 2,” with the story consisting of the “Someone said you’re not good enough, so you’re going to buck the odds and show the world you’re good enough, and you’re going to bring back a beloved public figure who retreated from the spotlight and turned into a cranky hermit because s/he lost somebody” hook, in addition to some of the plot points mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Yeah – aside from a mega-talented voice cast who can deliver the vocals needed for this kind of movie (albeit aided by heavy digital sweetening), there’s really nothing offensive or challenging about these films. They’re as predictable as the Washington Football Team losing every Monday night game, and there’s a small comfort in the reliability of knowing what’s coming. (Yes, I’m referring to both the familiarity of the film’s material and the WFT blowing it constantly. And I say this as a lifelong Washington fan.)
But there’s still a nobility in showing its young audience the values of keeping your word, believing in yourself and your friends, and sticking with something until you’ve gone the distance and finished the job. The original Sing established these hardy, hearty characters as hidden talents who’ve finally arrived at their time for their voices to find expression. Now, Sing 2 finds them flourishing in Buster Moon’s (Matthew McConaughey) renovated theater, putting on a rocked-up version of “Alice in Wonderland” which opens with Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” which is jarring in and of itself.
After a Redshore City (a Las Vegas substitute) talent scout declines to offer them a spot, Buster’s core group of performers – Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), Ash (Scarlett Johansson), Johnny (Taron Egerton), Meena (Tori Kelly), and Gunter (Nick Kroll) – and assistant Miss Crawly (writer/director Garth Jennings) hop a bus to Redshore City to get an unplanned audition with Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Canavale). Crystal’s your typical ruthless big boss man, someone who treats people as annoyances and not at all bothered by letting people know their exact worth in his world (which is less than nothing).
Even Buster gets a taste of this until Gunter pitches an idea that would involve reclusive singer Clay Calloway (Bono) returning to the stage, which gets the green light because Buster says he knows Clay, which he doesn’t. Now, he’s got three weeks to whip the talent into shape, mount the show, and get Clay to agree to come out from seclusion. Along the way, they have to deal with Crystal’s daughter Porsha (Halsey) who can’t act and takes the lead from Rosita, a stuck-up actor named Darius (Eric André) who’s more concerned about his own performance than helping scene partner Meena, and brutal choreographer Klaus (Adam Buxton) who wants to stomp the life and joy out of Johnny’s dreams.
Not gonna lie… if someone wants to grieve for a lost love, you let them grieve. You don’t go traipsing onto their property and beg them to do what they gave up doing in their grief, which is exactly what Buster and Ash do. Even though they both have the utmost respect for Clay, how would you feel if people came around asking you to do something you swore you’d never do again? And for what? Adulation? The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd? (Yeah, you Gonzaga readers, I went there. Hats off to Doc Warman.) The feeling of self-worth and pride? If Buster hadn’t lied, they’d just be sent home, their tails between their legs, with nothing but a story of failure and bruised egos.
But we wouldn’t have a story, would we? This is why Sing 2, as launched from these well-worn tropes, plays exactly as you’d expect. Honestly, there’s nothing new under the sun here, but it’s a trite, enjoyable lark which makes for a good Saturday afternoon watch. The indomitable can-do spirit instilled in each character – even Porsha – might be a little much, but that’s the way kids’ entertainment is these days. All Sing 2 does is ride the wave, creating merry, very well-animated havoc for the kids and giving their parents earworms in exchange for having to sit through yet another lesson in believing in and hoping for the best.