FOR REFERENCE: This review is based on an early theatrical screening of, “Sing 2.” It will be released in theatres in North America on December 22nd, 2021
Illumination’s Sing followed a simple formula for happy-go-lucky CG family flicks back in 2016; It was pleasantly-animated, packed to the gills with audience-friendly pop music, and crafted around a boilerplate, but fairly uplifting story about a would-be set of talents trying to make their mark on stage. There wasn’t much to complain about, and for a studio that’s usually pretty happy to just continually cash in on its ever-present Despicable Me/Minions franchise, Sing represented a decent change of pace. It wasn’t anything spectacularly memorable, but it got the job done during a busy Holiday season, where family movies tend to have an extra leg up on the competition.
Sing 2, for better or worse, seems to be going for much the same strategy. It’s the exact same kind of movie as its predecessor, only bigger in scope, and with even more A-list talent involved. As far as animated movie sequels go, Sing 2 hits almost beat-for-beat the exact notes that you would expect, without much in the way of surprises. If you loved the first Sing, this is good news. After all, you’re getting more of what you already love. I imagine that children will once again be especially delighted by Sing 2’s bright, cheery visuals and attention-grabbing musical moments as well, even if it’s tough not to roll your eyes at the overload of licensed pop tracks making a return, when the Sing franchise has so many opportunities to build itself around more creative original music.
But why fix what isn’t broken? This adage even seems to be at the heart of Sing 2’s storyline, which is all about not letting the soul of artistry get corrupted by outside influences that don’t actually care about passion. Yeah, it’s one of those obliviously ironic corporate family flicks, as you’d probably expect, given Illumination’s current filmography. Still, I’d be hard pressed to name anything I vehemently disliked about Sing 2, even if it still feels like a rather disposable sequel. It provides some cute entertainment, especially for little ones, and like its predecessor, you’ll probably have trouble readily recalling most of it by the time you exit the theatre.
Sing 2 largely brings back the first movie’s anthropomorphic animal cast, though there are some omissions this time out, most notably Seth MacFarlane’s Mike being absent. Almost everyone else is accounted for here though, including Matthew McConaughey’s Buster Moon, Reese Witherspoon’s Rosita, Nick Kroll’s Gunter, Taron Egerton’s Johnny, Tori Kelly’s Meena, Scarlett Johansson’s Ash, and writer-director, Garth Jennings’ Miss Crawly. All of these characters have been thriving in the local theatre space since the events of the original Sing, though Sing 2 pits the entire troupe against a new challenge; The Los Angeles-style Redshore City, where Buster’s performers can potentially hit staggering new levels of fame and recognition.
Naturally, with the move to a new setting, we also get several all-new personalities in Sing 2, most of which are fairly entertaining. The returning cast is still fun for the most part, without any weak or particularly strong links to speak of, though some of the new characters do manage to stand out a tad more. Bobby Cannavale’s antagonist, Jimmy Crystal for example is effectively menacing as a new villain, while Jimmy’s diva daughter, Portia, voiced by pop singer, Halsey, becomes a memorable stage hog with deceptively deep motivations of her own. Eric Andre’s comically conceited new actor, Darius is also pretty fun, especially when he gets cast as a romantic lead alongside the ever-adorable Meena, whose meekness predictably means that she’s never kissed anyone, let alone on stage.
Easily the biggest standout among an otherwise satisfactory cast roster in Sing 2 however is U2 singer, Bono, who voices reclusive rock star, Clay Calloway, an extremely revered music legend that refused to perform any further after his wife passed away. One of the major inciting incidents in Sing 2 involves Buster promising an increasingly impatient Jimmy that Clay will perform in his new stage production, without a reliable way to convince Clay to return to the stage, or society in general. Bono’s angry, grief-stricken Clay thus begins as a comical foil to Buster’s crew, but as the movie goes on, Clay’s anguish becomes earnestly challenged by the naive, seemingly hopeless optimism surrounding Buster and his performers. You can probably imagine how Clay’s ultimate resolution eventually pans out then.
Sadly, this really promising Clay storyline quickly gets buried under audience-friendly, feel-good platitudes, and that can be a little frustrating for those hoping that Illumination was actually going to grow up a bit with Sing 2. I guess one can’t realistically fault a movie for simply wanting its personalities to put audiences in a good mood, even if this also means that Sing 2’s character arcs virtually never stand out.
Sing 2’s plot begins in earnest after Buster Moon’s theatre has been thriving for some time, as I mentioned. After a talent scout believes that Buster’s crew wouldn’t make it in the entertainment hub of Redshore City however, Buster seeks to prove the scout wrong, eventually sneaking his crew of performers into the employ of media mogul, Jimmy Crystal, and his corporation, Crystal Entertainment. Once this ruse is in play, Buster finds himself quite literally putting his life on the line to stage a musical worthy of Redshore City’s adoration, all while fending off the increasingly aggressive demands and suspicions from Jimmy and his goons.
That’s the nutshell version of Sing 2’s storyline, which is mostly an excuse to string together the musical sequences and little else. There are still some good nuggets of thematic inspiration when the movie manages to fire on all cylinders, but considering that most of Sing’s characters already found their metaphorical voice in the first movie, the only way that this sequel can believably challenge them is by amping up stage obstacles that these performers have already conquered at the local theatre level.
Again, Bono’s Clay Calloway is the one personality that hints at something greater, a way to explore the true power behind performance art, and how passion for performing can overcome even the most crushing of grief and failure. That theme is barely scratched upon before it’s swept away with platitudes and easy answers, but some higher potential still manages to creep through when Clay enters the narrative, suggesting that Illumination is capable of pushing the medium of animated storytelling into more thematically complex territory someday, once they properly set their minds to it.
Sing 2 is once again written and directed by Garth Jennings, which likely explains why it feels largely the same as its predecessor, only grander in scale. Jennings once again crafts this sequel with a decent amount of music-fueled inspiration too, making everything likable and undemanding for general audiences, without truly pushing the envelope. Sing 2’s highlight moments do legitimately manage to swell some emotions however, plus there is at least a decent effort to mix up the lead characters’ core conflicts this time out. This is best achieved with the addition of Bono’s Clay Calloway, whose highlight character arc actually gives Sing 2 a surprising amount of legitimate gravitas, even if Sing 2’s feel-good tone only allows it to dig so deeply into Clay’s themes of grief and survivor’s guilt.
When it comes down to it, that returning feel-good, no-frills aspiration remains Sing 2’s greatest strength and most recurring weakness. As much as some emotional moments ring true, and some musical recreations are well-executed, Sing 2 somehow feels even more innocuous and devoid of real stakes than its predecessor did. It’s immediately obvious that everything will work out exactly how the lead characters want it to, and this can sometimes undermine what’s otherwise a respectable effort to make Sing 2 more than a cash grab follow-up for the Illumination catalogue. There’s something to be said about the worth of feel-good entertainment, especially after a miserable nigh-two years of pandemic conditions, but Sing 2 opting not to truly challenge audiences’ expectations works against it as much as it does for it, especially when it faces some fairly stiff competition from Disney’s latest animated blockbuster musical, Encanto.
As I mentioned, a persistent frustration that continues to plague the Sing franchise is just how inexplicably dependent it is on recycling third-party pop music. The licensed pop songs once again seem chosen more for the sake of amusing children than building a competent jukebox musical to boot. Sing 2 isn’t terrible at being a workable jukebox musical, in fairness, but that also doesn’t seem to be its first priority.
This sequel brings back composer, Joby Talbot to oversee its soundtrack as well, so there isn’t much in the way of surprises here. Still, a few licensed music moments do manage to get a decent laugh here and there, most notably a scene of Buster’s borderline-senile iguana assistant, Miss Crawley awkwardly singing System of a Down’s iconic metal song, “Chop Suey!” while barreling down a highway in a convertible. It’s really too bad that this very funny scene was already spoiled in Sing 2’s trailers.
There are also a small handful of musical moments that really do pull at the heartstrings, when they’re executed properly. Many of Sing 2’s musical highlights predictably happen during the climactic stage performance, with an especially big standout being a Scarlett Johansson/Bono duet of U2’s, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, but if nothing else, adult viewers will probably find plenty of songs they at least recognize and enjoy throughout the otherwise simple soundtrack. That’s arguably a much bigger draw than the majority of Sing 2’s sound design, which is loaded with fast slapstick and other simple flourishes primarily designed to appeal to children.
Illumination’s rather boilerplate animation formula is recognizable and adequate. It seemed previously like the studio pushed their visual designs a bit further with the original Sing, which had noticeably more texture detail and lighting flourishes than Illumination’s previous movies, especially when it came to the lead characters. Sing 2 however doesn’t really elevate its visuals to any meaningful degree. There are still moments that look visually pleasing, particularly the stage production climax, but true to form for Illumination, it feels like Sing 2’s animation noticeably cuts corners in several places. Some of the secondary character models especially still look overly simplistic, barely hovering above straight-to-video level, and while the big musical money shots look pretty good, the rest of the movie has a disappointingly ‘cheap’ look. This is especially evident when you compare Sing 2 to competing offerings from Disney/Pixar, Warner Animation Group, and even Universal’s other subsidiary animation outfit, Dreamworks Animation.
Sing 2 is also being released in 3D within compatible theatres, though unfortunately, my advance screening wasn’t available in that format. Instead, I watched Sing 2 flat in 2D, and perhaps that’s part of the reason why some of its visuals failed to impress. I did sometimes get the sense that the stage-oriented moments in particular, along with some of the zany slapstick bits, probably would have felt a little more fun and engaging in 3D, though the animation usually managed to be at least acceptable in 2D. If you enjoy 3D movies, you might want to consider shelling out for a 3D ticket in this case, which may slightly boost some of Sing 2’s otherwise unremarkable animation. Even so, the visual suite in Sing 2 is certainly inoffensive, if nothing else, and there’s certainly nothing here that would do much to upset or frighten children, if that’s a concern to you.
Sing 2 is ultimately a slightly refined, moderately expanded sequel that largely retains the same exact strengths and weaknesses as its predecessor, for better or for worse. It’s a worthy follow-up for fans of the first movie, and a decent family flick for viewers of all ages. It also doesn’t chart any new territory for Illumination, an animation outfit that currently seems perfectly content to be a B-list studio.
Unfortunately, those expecting Sing 2 to dig deeper into some of its predecessor’s ideas are going to be disappointed. This sequel mostly settles for being a feel-good popcorn flick that doesn’t rock the boat, occasionally leaning towards a greater impression through Bono’s tragic rock legend or Halsey’s exasperated trust fund brat, though never to the point of honestly desiring to challenge the audience. Instead, what you get is a decent selection of pop music layered into workable, but fairly fun animated movie tropes. This is serviceable for the Holiday season, at least for kids, who have far less viewing options than adults do.
For all its ceremony about putting on the greatest show we’ve ever seen, Sing 2 remains far from that. It’s more like a pleasant, fairly forgettable matinee offering that doesn’t do anything particularly wrong, though doesn’t stand out for anything all that right either. Maybe the inevitable Sing 3 can finally have Illumination reaching for the stars someday.
- Redshore City effectively expands the story's scope
- Licensed soundtrack is mostly solid
- Some standout new characters, particularly Bono's Clay Calloway
- Boilerplate storyline with few surprises
- Animation still looks too cheap in some places
- Returning characters face less meaningful challenges