‘Sing 2′ Review: Garth Jennings’ Charming Sequel Is The Animated Equivalent Of A Top 40 Radio Station

Sing,” Illumination Entertainment’s 2016 animated feature, is a breath of fresh air, particularly for a company most closely associated with the screeching, omnipresent minions. A kind of jukebox musical set in a world populated by oddball anthropomorphic animals (released just a few months after “Zootopia”), it is charming and upbeat. The kind of movie you can tap your toe to. (It was also hugely successful, making nearly $650 million worldwide.) A sequel was inevitable. And now, after several missed, COVID-related release dates, it’s here. And your enjoyment of “Sing 2” will undoubtedly depend largely on your fondness for stories of underdogs (surprisingly none of them are actual dogs) dreaming of something bigger and whether an endless stream of Top 40 hits will lift you up or drive you insane. There’s certainly enjoyment to have in the big-hearted cheeriness of “Sing 2.” But after five years you’ll also probably wish the filmmakers themselves had dreamed a little bigger.

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“Sing 2” opens with a lavish “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired musical number set to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy.” This is part of a larger musical that the animal cast of the first film is putting on, a kind of regional musical theater. The sequence is a fun enough moment and establishes the heightened visual stylishness of the sequel (Illumination movies are known for their economic productions). When a recruiter for a big city magnate leaves midway through the performance, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey), the producer of the show and owner of the theater, becomes even more determined than ever to land a show in glamorous Redshore City. So the gang travels to the city, which is sort of Los Angeles-meets-Las Vegas-meets-Zootopia megalopolis, to impress a thuggish hotelier named Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale, a sneering white wolf) and launch their magnum opus.

It’s here where the movie rockets into a thousand different directions – Ash the porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) attempts to recruit a reclusive rock star lion named Clay Calloway (Bono); Johnny the gorilla (Taron Egerton) is having trouble learning his dance moves so he recruits a local street performer (Letitia Wright); Meena (Tori Kelly) clashes with her scene partner (Eric Andre) and falls for a local ice cream salesman (Pharrell Williams); and Porsha (Halsey), Jimmy’s daughter, maneuvers herself for a starring role, replacing Moon’s regular player Rosita (Reese Witherspoon). Also, Moon is attempting to launch an explosive, multipronged sci-fi musical that he has very little understanding of.

“Sing 2” is once again written and directed by Garth Jennings, a British music video pioneer who once operated (with former partner Nick Goldsmith) as Hammer & Tongs. Jennings has found invention and humor in all of his projects, be they huge, hulking corporate enterprises like Disney’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” or small, personal indies like “Son of Rambow.” And he brought a nice texture to the original “Sing;” an authorial voice that was missing from almost all of the Illumination Entertainment projects and, indeed, a fair amount of studio animated features too. Its idiosyncrasies were what made the first film so great. (It also helped that Jennings played what was arguably the most endearing character – an elderly, one-eyed chameleon named Miss Crawley.)

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And you can feel Jennings having fun with the fullness of “Sing 2.” At 110 minutes, each of the tangential plot strands is explored adequately (there is an argument that the extended running time was maybe too luxurious) and it’s very clear all of the performers are having a blast inhabiting their animal avatars. Technologically, too, “Sing 2” seems like a clear advancement – hair and fur, fabric and environments, are all way more sophisticated than they were the first time around. (These flourishes were perhaps necessary given the characters’ move to the more glamorous, ornate urban setting.) You can feel Jennings’ freedom, his looseness, as he swings the camera around the production’s cavernous rehearsal space, uninhibited by the physical realities of cameras or crews. The movie’s oversized spectacle has, in a way, freed Jennings as a filmmaker.

Does it all add up? Not entirely. But there are some lovely moments along the way, particularly with Bono’s character, as he slowly thaws. There’s also something to be said for an animated movie unconcerned with making big statements or investigating philosophical quandaries. Instead, “Sing 2” flits by on the strength of its staging and choreography, its desire to please, and its ability to craft small comic moments, almost like a series of musical shorts strung together. It would have been nice if there had been more conflict, more setbacks, more misunderstandings or hindrances. Instead, most of the characters coast by on their genial, good-natured attitude. It is, in a way, admirable, that all “Sing 2” wants you to do is sit back, smile, and maybe croon along. It would have been great if Jennings and his crew had pushed themselves further. “Sing 2” is like having a mainstream radio station on in the background. It’s enjoyable and not in the least bit challenging. And sometimes that’s enough. [B]     

“Sing 2” hits theaters on December 22. 

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