Decadence. That’s the word that first comes to mind when thinking about Sing 2. The animated sequel depicts the ethos of our times without a single critique. Money, power, and fame are the ultimate goals of life, the movie suggests. And we should not be satisfied until we get them all and then some.
The original Sing, released five years ago, is far from perfect. Like its new follow-up, the movie oozes the effects of commercialization. Yet for all its faults, that first feature at least pretends to search for something greater in the characters’ efforts to achieve musical success. They overcome personal obstacles and family strife to find themselves and a sense of community.
In Sing 2, no such journey takes place, leaving it with a hollow feel.
To recap the previous installment, Sing follows its koala bear protagonist, Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), putting on a show to save the local theater he frequented as a child and now owns. Restoring the venue to its former glory was his dream. And with an assist from a band of talented misfits, he brings the community together through a shared love of music.
That first movie ends with an image of the theater undergoing a major renovation and rebuild, leaving the viewer to imagine the countless shows and gatherings that will occur there.
But Sing 2 begins by informing us that the effort was not, in fact, Buster’s dream. Or at least not his only dream. The success of the local theater is not enough for Buster. Now, he wants to impress a talent scout and land a show in Redshore City, a Las Vegas-style entertainment hub where major productions are put on at even larger, more grandiose venues.
In Sing, Buster wants to save the local theater to honor the memory of his father, who took him there as a child and worked extra shifts so his son could buy the theater. In Sing 2, no such motivation is given. Instead, Buster’s “dream” feels like a lustful pursuit of fame and money for its own sake.
Buster is joined again by pigs Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) and Gunter (Nick Kroll), the porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson), the gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), and the elephant Meena (Tori Kelly). Also, Buster’s assistant, an elderly iguana named Ms. Crawly voiced by the movie’s returning writer-director, Garth Jennings.
The group travels to Redshore City and schemes to get an audience with a wolf named Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a ruthless entertainment mogul who can finance their show. After he rejects their original idea within seconds, Gunter pitches a science fiction musical called Out Of This World. Crystal seems intrigued.
But then Buster promises that the show will star legendary rock artist Clay Calloway (Bono), a reclusive lion not seen in public since the death of his wife 15 years earlier. Excited by the prospect of a show about space and Calloway’s return, Crystal agrees to fund the production. Buster, ever the schemer, gets to work fulfilling his series of promises.
Sing 2 goes on to tell the story of the gang producing the show without introducing any meaningful conflict. Buster and his team just put out a bunch of fires. For example, Johnny struggles to learn the show’s choreography, so he works with a coach on the side. Rosita has to overcome her fear of heights to land the leading role in the show. Meena turns a distracting crush on a boy into fuel for her performance. And Ash takes on the role of convincing Calloway to join the show.
One might expect an emotional scene in which Calloway discusses his grief and opts to join the group after a deep conversation with Ash. But in the movie, Ash just plays a song on his steps and the next thing we know, he’s on his way to Redshore City for rehearsal.
Typically, characters develop and grow from one movie to the next. Not here. This sequel just keeps introducing new characters as a meaningless way to keep things moving along. There’s the elephant ice cream vendor Alfonso (Pharrell Williams), the conceited yak actor Darius (Eric André), lynx dancer Nooshy (Letitia Wright), and Crystal’s daughter Porsha (Halsey), who scores a role in the show after her father’s insistence.
In doing so, the movie seems to be running away from any kind of depth or complexity. Any lessons or facts of life are noticeably absent. If there’s a moral to this story, audiences will struggle to find it.
One of the most prevalent criticisms of the first Sing was that it seemed to mostly serve as a vehicle for cross-promotion, a way for Universal to plug and repurpose their existing repertoire of music. It’s almost as if the company read those criticisms and then embarked on a mission to make the sequel feel more shallow in this way.
The gang’s new show, Out Of This World, features repurposed pop songs including Aretha Franklin’s “Think” and U2’s “Your Song Saved My Life.” The movie tells us little about the show’s plot and gives no hint of the through-line that might connect these songs. The lead role, played by Rosita, just wanders from one planet to another, witnessing various conflicts.
Out Of This World and Sing 2 share this meandering quality.
Art should not always have to justify its own existence. But Sing 2 doesn’t even attempt it. Everything about the movie, from the characters to the plot, to the music itself, feels artificial. It plays like something meant to be streamed with little fanfare to fill a family’s day. Nothing about it suggests a desire to endure.
Of course, not every movie has to be transcendent. But they should at least attempt to reach out and touch us in some way. Especially movies for children, which often have a unique opportunity to show and reveal something about the world. We can and should demand that from such work. It’s a relatively low bar that Sing 2 fails to meet.
Related Topics: Animation