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One of the biggest surprises of Sing, other than the impressive feat of first-time feature animation director Garth Jennings pulling off a major studio hit, was how well the cast’s musical performances came together, with all the principal actors singing their own parts. If anything, Sing 2 exceeds that memorable accomplishment with the addition of chart-topping musicians Halsey and Pharrell Williams, while introducing U2’s Bono in his first animated film role.
With more than 40 rock, rap and pop tunes featured throughout the movie from artists as varied as Billie Eilish, BTS, Cardi B, Camila Cabello and Taylor Swift, Illumination producers Christopher Meledandri and Janet Healy have clearly hit on a winning strategy, one that they unabashedly reprise in this disarmingly endearing sequel. In part, the filmmakers can afford to gamble on pushing the creative envelope with an even more extravagant production this time around because audiences are already familiar with the movie’s predictably satisfying formula, even if Sing concluded on a somewhat uncertain note for musical impresario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey).
Venue: AFI Fest (Red Carpet Premieres)
Release date: Wednesday, Dec. 22
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Pharrell Williams, Letitia Wright, Eric André, Chelsea Peretti, Nick Offerman, Bono
Director-screenwriter: Garth Jennings
Sometime after the spectacular and ignominious collapse of his original theater, the diminutive koala bear in a sharp suit and bow tie has finally realized his dream of mounting a hugely popular and successful show at his New Moon Theater. The ragtag cast that Buster originally brought together for an amateur singing competition has now blossomed into a full-fledged company of professional performers, with singing and dancing talents second to none. Or so he thinks, until Suki Lane (Chelsea Peretti), a veteran canine talent scout, decides to deny them an opportunity to audition in exotic Redshore City, telling Moon that “you’d never make it in the big leagues.”
Considering that she’s just walked out on a dizzyingly psychedelic Alice in Wonderland-themed production number headlined by teen sensation Meena (Tori Kelly), backed by gorilla piano prodigy Johnny (Taron Egerton) and the peerless porcine pair of Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) and Gunter (Nick Kroll), maybe it’s Suki who lacks imagination.
Opening an animated movie with a four-minute musical number featuring Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” might seem a bit over the top for a PG audience, but the familiarity of the cast and the enthusiastic performances, supported by eye-popping production design, easily sell the energetic intro, despite Suki’s downer assessment.
Clearly, though, lecturing a koala about his limitations only motivates him more, particularly when Buster’s personal motto is “Dream big dreams.” Gathering the cast together and hopping a bus after recruiting popular rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson) back into the fold, Buster and company arrive at the Crystal Tower Theater in Redshore City (standing in for Las Vegas) and slip backstage uninvited and unnoticed.
It’s not long before Suki spots them, but too late to interrupt their audition for her irascible boss, the discerning and demanding white wolf Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), who already has unceremoniously ushered a dozen aspiring acts offstage. He’s just about to give Buster’s group the boot when Gunter unexpectedly blurts out his idea for a sci-fi musical, inadvertently committing to casting legendary lion rocker Clay Calloway (Bono) in a starring role. Buster, ever the showman, runs with Gunter’s improvised presentation for his production “Out of this World” when he finds out that Calloway is one of Crystal’s favorite performers. Before they know it they’ve got the gig.
With the biggest show they’ve ever attempted now scheduled to open in just three short weeks, Gunter is on the spot to come up with a script to match his vividly imaginative pitch. That challenge is only slightly less intimidating than recruiting Calloway; Buster doesn’t actually know the star, who’s been a recluse for the past decade, since the death of his wife, and refuses to return to performing.
With her considerable musical talent, it falls to Ash to convince Calloway to emerge from self-imposed retirement. It’s in these few scenes between Johansson and Bono that writer-director Jennings’ script achieves a new level of emotionally driven storytelling for the franchise. Struggling with loss, Calloway just can’t find any reason to sing again after the passing of his singular inspiration.
By adapting the melodies of some of the grieving lion’s own songs and internalizing their emotional arcs, Ash demonstrates the universal appeal of his creative output, challenging Calloway to reclaim his legacy. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the movie features several classic U2 tracks before casually dropping the new single “Your Song Saved My Life,” the band’s first release since 2019.
While Calloway’s decision may be a foregone conclusion, it’s in no way adequate preparation for the film’s finale, which reveals just how far Jennings has progressed in mastering the possibilities of animation.
As Gunter’s space odyssey sends astronaut Rosita on a mission to rescue lost interstellar explorer Calloway, her search across four inhabited planets provides Buster’s castmembers with a series of spectacular set pieces and stirring musical numbers. It’s a more unified sequence than the series of solo performances that concluded Sing, emphasizing the camaraderie of a company that’s not just a collection of performers anymore, but a community with its own set of values and aspirations.
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Production company: Illumination
Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Bobby Cannavale, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Pharrell Williams, Halsey, Chelsea Peretti, Letitia Wright, Eric André, Adam Buxton, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Nick Offerman, Julia Davis, Bono
Director-screenwriter: Garth Jennings
Producers: Chris Meledandri, Janet Healy
Executive producer: Dana Krupinski
Editor: Gregory Perler
Music: Joby Talbot
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