Dir: Garth Jennings. Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Bobby Cannavale. Cert U, 110 minutes
The idea that a sequel should always go bigger has been applied – with zest – to the Sing franchise. But bigger and better? Not so much. While the first film saw koala impresario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) hustle up an X Factor-style singing competition to save his theatre, Sing 2 brings Buster and his zoomorphic pals to Redshore City, which is really Las Vegas in all but name and species of citizens.
The scale here is nauseatingly unfathomable. A billboard ad replicates Blade Runner’s dystopian, pill-popping geisha; an auditorium climbs to the heavens and looks as if it could house every person on the planet who ever wanted to see a Cirque du Soleil show; the hotel suites are so palatial that adults will spend most of the runtime trying to guess their nightly rate. The jewel in the crown of all this large-ness? Bono, voicing a reclusive lion rock star, who is forced into the narrative just as U2’s Songs of Innocence was once forced onto everyone’s iPhones.
The stakes, too, feel a little severe. Buster Moon has faked his way into the office of lupine media mogul Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) and convinced him to greenlight a sci-fi spectacular in one of his hotels, on the condition that he can coax Clay Calloway (Bono) out of early retirement. Clay hasn’t been seen since the death of his wife 15 years earlier. But the risk here isn’t failure, embarrassment, or even bankruptcy. No, if the wolf is displeased with the results, he will simply punt the koala off the side of a building and let him plummet to his death. Harsh.
Meanwhile, the rest of Buster’s crew are preoccupied with their own micro-conflicts: Johnny the gorilla (Taron Egerton) must find his confidence in dance and best his German-accented, proboscis monkey choreographer (Adam Buxton). Rosita the pig (Reese Witherspoon) must overcome her fear of heights. Meena the elephant (Tori Kelly) must navigate the path of first love after she falls for an ice cream seller (Pharrell Williams) who’s just as timorous as she is.
In Sing 2’s defence, the film is at least enthusiastic about its own overabundance, and the new celebrity voice additions – Halsey’s mollycoddled, rich-girl wolf or Letitia Wright’s street-dancing lynx – fit nicely into the mix. Director Garth Jennings, who started his career directing the music videos for Blur’s “Coffee & TV” and Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower”, takes the approach of a clown pulling an endless line of handkerchiefs out of their pocket. Sing 2 is so damned determined to please that, at times, you can’t help but smile.
The A-list cast is largely made up of actors that we know can sing (and that we’ve seen sing before), even if their voices have been largely blotted out here by the autotune. Scarlett Johansson delivers a husky soft-punk take on “Heads Will Roll” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Egerton goes big and Broadway for Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars”. Bono, of course, sounds like Bono when he sings, and the film frames U2’s songs like they’re the key to humanity’s salvation. When he acts, the animation does most of the emoting.
But the Sing franchise, at its core, is really just an expensive version of Kidz Bop. Universal Pictures has given itself the excuse to dive into Universal Music’s back catalogue, pick out a few hits, and project them out of the mouths of cutesy animals. When the flashiness is the point, can you really blame Sing 2 for going all out?