There are a lot of movies out this holiday season but only one where you can see a slug sing Drake’s “Hotline Bling.” Ah, the magic of cinema!
“Sing 2,” the sequel to the 2016 animated hit, packs the jukebox again with more than 40 songs, from BTS to Billie Eilish. The two films from Illumination, the animation studio of “Despicable Me” and “Minions,” derive a lot of their appeal from a karaoke game of pairing a chart-topping hit with the appropriate anthropomorphic animal. The options are as vast as the animal kingdom. Should Cardi B be sung by a bumblebee? Is it too on the nose to give “Savage” to a stallion?
But writer-director Garth Jennings’ films are a little — a little, not a lot — more than a string of pop tunes strung together in a frenetic, sugary cartoon confection. The movies are about the collaborative, shambolic thrill of live performance. In the first, the bow-tied koala impresario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) assembled a singing contest to save his struggling theater. In “Sing 2,” which opens in theaters Wednesday, Moon and his stable of performers go for the big time. After a snooty talent scout dismisses their troupe as not good enough to rise above regional theater, Moon buys bus tickets and they head to Redshore City, a gleaming desert metropolis stand-in for Las Vegas.
To mount a show with the tyrannical mogul Jimmy Crystal, a white wolf voiced by Bobby Cannavale, Moon overpromises, pledging he has a sci-fi musical that isn’t yet written and a star (a retired lion named Clay Calloway, voiced by Bono) who isn’t yet cast. The gang of Johnny the emo gorilla (Taron Egerton), Ash the porcupine pop star (Scarlett Johansson), Meena the sensitive elephant (Tori Kelly) and the porcine duo Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) and Gunter (Nick Kroll) rally to rehearse the spectacle, along with a few others like Crystal’s pampered daughter Porsha (Halsey, note perfect).
It’s all amiable, shallow and occasionally sweet. Though most of the wall-to-wall music is pulled right off the studio’s own bestselling shelves, there’s a poignant, wordless moment of the gang rehearsing on the back of the bus set to the far less predictable “Holes,” by ’90s indie act Mercury Rev. If any narrative thread holds the movie together, it’s each character dealing with their own version of anxiety, fear and stage fright as performers. While a laudable message for a kids movie, it’s drowned out by the movie’s commercialized blare.
None of the characters come though much, with one exception. Miss Crawly, an elderly iguana with a glass eye voiced by Jennings, adds a welcome dose of slapstick to the pop parade. She’s a bumbling mess but the only one in “Sing 2” that knows one vital thing: how to put on a show.