Toronto: 'Sing' Is a Festival Hit, But Will Academy Feel the Beat?

Sing film still - H Publicity 2016
Courtesy of TIFF

Garth Jennings' Sing, a computer-animated Illumination Entertainment/Universal production five years in the making that had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday and hits theaters Dec. 21, is not a remake, sequel or adaptation. But, centering around anthropomorphic animals, a musical talent show and a reported 85 pre-existing songs, the movie doesn't exactly feel original.

This shouldn't bother the vast majority of moviegoers, who just want fun escapism — look no further than the Despicable Me films from these same companies, or the ovations Torontonians accorded Sing after several flashy sequences featuring big stars performing familiar tunes. But it might prove a hurdle with the Academy's animation branch, which not infrequently passes over populist films (e.g. Tangled, The Lego Movie) in favor of obscure ones it finds more inventive (see eight noms in the last seven years for GKIDS releases).

Sing's voice cast includes more "names" than any other animated film I can think of: Oscar winners Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon and Jennifer Hudson, plus Scarlett Johansson, Nick Offerman, Seth MacFarlane, John C. Reilly, Leslie Jones, Nick Kroll, Jay Pharoah and the list goes on. But what it boasts in star power, it lacks in story — its plot exists only to connect musical numbers, which almost makes sense when you think of how much it must have cost to license dozens of hits, like Katy Perry's "Firework" (previously employed to better effect in 2012's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted).

My sense is that the best things the film has going for it, in terms of its Oscar prospects, are its solid landscape animation (the "camera" impressively zooms through what looks very much like Los Angeles) and a catchy original song ("Set It Free," written by Dave Bassett and performed by Johansson, who previously performed a song, "Before My Time," in 2012's Chasing Ice, that wound up with an Oscar nom). With slots all but sewn up for Disney's Zootopia, Focus Features/Laika's Kubo and the Two Strings and Pixar's Finding Dory, and with no fewer than six GKIDS releases in the mix and Disney's highly touted Moana still to come, it remains to be seen if Sing can claim a slot in a crowded field.