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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

As crooning animals, Hollywood heavyweights give ‘Sing’ the boost it needs

Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey, left, and Ash, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, in a scene from "Sing." (Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures / AP)
By Michael O’Sullivan Washington Post

The animated comedy “Sing” has one big thing going for it: movie stars playing singing animals. There’s a second appeal if you follow such television shows as “The Voice” and “American Idol.” The movie is set during an amateur vocal competition.

OK, so “La La Land” it ain’t.

Still, the sight and sound of British heartthrob Taron Egerton as a crooning gorilla named Johnny – and Reese Witherspoon as the pig Rosita, Seth MacFarlane as the mouse Mike and Scarlett Johansson as the punk porcupine Ash, all singing their little hearts out – is just charming enough to keep anyone looking for a family-friendly movie option this holiday season happy. The naughty jokes never stray very far from the realm of flatulence, and the sounds coming out the other ends are, like those generated by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in “La La Land,” surprisingly easy on the ears. Former “Idol” contestants Tori Kelly and Jennifer Hudson also provide voices for, respectively, an elephant with stage fright and a young sheep diva (voiced, in her later years, by Jennifer Saunders, who proved she had some pipes as the fairy godmother in “Shrek 2.”)

The story, insubstantial as it is, revolves around the efforts of a koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) to revive the fortunes of his dying theater. Hence: the singing contest. Problems arise when the prize offered is mistakenly advertised as $100,000, which Buster doesn’t have.

Other mild conflicts emerge in the form of Rosita’s efforts to juggle her dreams of celebrity with the demands of a large family and Johnny’s struggle to leave behind a life of crime. The tension is never unbearable, even when generated by a trio of mobster bears in pursuit of Mike, for reasons I have, quite frankly, forgotten.

The animation, courtesy of Illumination Entertainment (“Despicable Me”), is serviceably cute, adding the eye-popping delights of bioluminescent squid to the strange allure of a menagerie of animals rendering everything from such contemporary chart-toppers as Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” to Shocking Blue’s 1969 hit “Venus.” There’s even a snippet of obscure scat singer Shooby Taylor’s early-1980s oddity “Stout-Hearted Men.” (Kudos to the film’s music supervisor. Bonus points for Mom and Dad if they recognize it.)

“Sing” ends, predictably and without straining, on a high note, with everybody’s problems resolved. If only real life could so easily be realigned, by a singing pig.