It’s been said of Illumination’s latest animated outing, Sing, that there is not an original element in the plot – but given that there are also apparently a limited number of plots in the world, this hardly seems a particularly strong brickbat to lob.
Indeed, it’s possible that no collection of tropes and clichés has ever been quite as much fun before.
Written and directed by Garth Jennings (who also provided some of the voices) this is, in essence, a sort of American Idol talent contest with anthropomorphised characters.
It’s a contest that only comes into being because theatre owner Buster Moon is desperate and broke, while all of the auditionees who win places in the show itself have Big Personal Problems.
Johnny the gorilla’s dad is a mobster and wants his son in the gang; Rosita the pig is mother to 25 piglets and wife to a workaholic husband who barely notices her; Mike the street musician mouse is more than a tad crooked; Ash the porcupine rock chick has a bastard of a boyfriend and Meena the elephant has the voice but nowhere near the confidence.
Meanwhile, there’s Buster’s friend, Eddie Noodleman, the son of well-to-do sheep, who’s looking for a role in life. His grandmother, Nana Noodleman, is a for star of the musical stage, and is very wealthy, very bored and downright misanthropic in equal measure.
You get the gist, don’t you?
What Jennings manages is to make this all seem remarkably fresh and funny, while you actually find yourself caring about the characters.
The use of music – there are more than 60 classic songs here and the cost of the rights accounted for a substantial part of the overall budget – is very clever. It’s one aspect that ensures this is not simply a film for children.
Watch out for the snail’s audition as a prime example.
The performances are great – who else but Seth MacFarlane could give voice to Mike: ‘Hey, Seth – fancy playing a bit of a shit character and getting to sing some Sinatra-style stuff?’
Reese Witherspoon is delightful as Rosita – and gets strong support from Nick Kroll as Gunther, the bubbly, camp German pig she’s teamed with.
Scarlett Johansson makes a great rock chick of Ash – and I really like what happens to her character – while Taron Egerton makes Johnny suitably torn between vastly different worlds (it’s all a bit Billy Elliot) and Tori Kelly does a lovely job with Meena.
Matthew McConaughey bridges the gap between con man and dreamer as koala Buster, Rhea Perlman has a nice cameo as an unsympathetic banker, John C Reilly pops up as Eddie and Jennifer Saunders goes a tad Dame Shirley on us as Nana Noodleman.
Jennings himself adds much humour as Ms Crawly, an elderly iguana with a glass eye who is Buster’s assistant and also gives Johnny piano lessons.
As I said – it’s a very good voice cast and if the animation seems simple on the surface, there are some very neat things going on.
The final section is particularly cleverly constructed, allowing the leads to all fully enjoy their musical moment in the sun while neatly pulling together assorted loose ends.
If Disney has Mickey Mouse, then Illumination has the Minions, and so much are they now established as the studio’s mascot that they even get another moment on the big screen at the start of the titles here.
Presumably, they’ll be back for longer in the summer when Despicable Me 3 arrives.
We saw it late on a Friday afternoon at the end of yet another week in an increasingly surreal world: it was a perfect spot of therapy.