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Sing 2

***1/2

by Matt Anderson

published December 5, 2021

With its positive messages and peppy vibe, Sing 2 is a cure for the COVID blues.

Dream Out Loud

It’s been a rough year for everybody around the world. Sing 2 is an opportunity to take a break from all that ails humanity, take a deep breath and belt out some great songs. And from great tunes comes great joy.

The trailers for Sing 2 make it look like a movie that’s all over the map. It’s a pleasant surprise to watch the whole story unfold in a singular, cohesive narrative that holds together well.

That story brings back the lead characters from the original Sing, this time in a quest to go big-time with a fabulous musical stage production of Alice in Wonderland. The dream is to take the show to the next level, in Redshore City (a decidedly kid-friendly blend of New York City and Las Vegas).

There’s just one small problem: the talent scout they were desperate to impress, Suki (Chelsea Peretti, Game Night), pretty much hated the show’s preview. “You’re not good enough,” she bluntly tells poor Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey, Interstellar).

But persistence is one of the themes of Sing 2, along with dreaming big dreams and other key attributes to being “good enough.” Guts. Stamina. Faith.

Speaking of big dreams, they don’t come any bigger than finding Clay Calloway (Bono, U2’s front man) and pulling him out of a 15-year state of seclusion to join Buster’s spectacular spectacular, Out of This World.

Get Clay. Get dough. Put on a show.

How hard could it be?

Plenty hard. But that’s where guts, stamina and faith all come into play. Grab some elbow grease. Over-promise way beyond your (current) skill set. Then make it happen.

The Goal Is Soul

Yeah. It’s a children’s movie, but there’s something for everybody in this all-ages crowd-pleaser.

Sometimes the comedy is broad, as with Miss Crawly, the scene-stealing lizard voiced by writer/director Garth Jennings. She gets into some serious scrapes and suffers from PTSD following her first encounter with Clay and his paintball gun. But from her pains come some laugh-out-loud funny stuff.

There’s also the fun of thinking about Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow) as Ash, a porcupine who gets a little prickly when it comes to contract negotiations. Ash’s situation is not far removed from Johansson’s own reality in the wake of her recent dust-up with Disney.

Johansson and McConaughey are joined by fellow returning cast members Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon and Tori Kelly. But they’re accompanied by a whole host of top-shelf talent from music and film, including Halsey (in a very funny role), Pharrell Williams, Tori Kelly, Wes Anderson and Edgar Wright.

As for Bono, he makes his animated feature debut in Sing 2 and it has to be said: the kid is good. Really good.

And it doesn’t get any better than hearing this advice: “Just sing. Your songs will carry you.” It’s a very Bono sentiment.

Lift Us Up

As with Sing and other like-minded movies, including Trolls World Tour, Sing 2 is at its core a juke box musical. In Broadway lingo, that’s basically an insult. But here, it’s wholly appropriate and with much less negative insinuations.

There is a sort of creative conceit in the musical selections. Some songs are performed by the original artists and those tunes are used to set the stage for the characters. For example, Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road creates a suitable mood for the on-screen action before it’s revealed the song’s coming from a radio – one that abruptly gets turned off. In cases like that, it’s fun and playful. And Bono’s joined by his U2 bandmates for a new song, Your Song Saved My Life, that serves as a capstone to all the action that precedes it.

In other cases, the abundantly talented A-list voice cast sings the songs as their characters.

And therein is both the joy and the challenge.

There are so many great songs scattered throughout Sing 2, but, more often than not, they’re only energetic snippets that are cut short before they can reach the full emotional impact of the song.

A prime example is Scarlett Johansson’s fantastic rendition of U2’s Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of. The placement within the narrative is perfect, conveying the right emotions to augment the scene. The fact she’s singing it to Clay Calloway — voiced by Bono himself — makes it even more enjoyable.

But it’s cut short to fit the narrative. Right when there’s a burning desire to hear the song played out in full. Sigh. At least it’s on the set list for the movie’s soundtrack release.

It’s a harsh reality of the movie’s construction. Original songs, as with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music in Moana and Encanto, can be written and custom tailored to serve the narrative and fit the movie’s flow.

In the case of appropriating pre-existing songs to latch onto their popularity and using them as a short cut to create an emotional beat is another matter. Retrofitting popular songs is a challenge tackled well in live-action productions like Baz Luhrmann’s masterful Moulin Rouge! (which itself has become a major, Tony-winning Broadway production). The medleys, the songs, the characters and the story are deftly blended together to create a fresh experience (with Moulin Rouge! further working its own conceit: taking modern songs and moving them decades back, into early 20th century Paris).

Such an approach isn’t practical in the case of Sing 2. And, given the primary target audience, it’s not necessary. Sing 2 serves as a primer to pop culture and pop music. So, the snippet approach it is. The alternative would be to turn the movie into nothing more than a collection of music videos, so it’s a balancing act.