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Christmas-themed horror stories are perennially popular so allow me to offer up a brief but terrifying vignette along those lines. Picture, if you will, an ordinary adult-type person who has decided to spend a couple of hours over the holidays taking in a new movie and is going over the listings to see what is playing at the local multiplex. Raves for the lovely “Licorice Pizza” certainly make that one seem enticing, for example, as does the combination of William Shakespeare, Joel Coen, Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” They might be curious to see how “The Matrix Resurrections” reboots that franchise for a new age and if their tastes are a bit on the racier side, “Red Rocket” might be just the thing. So many films out there to choose from but after a few moments of idle speculation, our hapless protagonist is jolted back to their hellish reality and ends up uttering the terrifying words that I fear will be said far too often this season—“Okay kids, let’s go see “Sing 2.””
I suppose I should confess up front that I do not recall anything about the original 2016 film, except for a moment in which a cartoon pig voiced by Reese Witherspoon briefly sings Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” This means that either I never actually saw the original or I did and, aside from that one bit, managed to completely escape my mind in the interim. If it is the former, there is nothing in this hacky and brutally bland piece of product that makes me feel as if I missed anything. If it is the latter, then I am both relieved and hopeful that it too will quickly fade from my memory as well.
Having saved his local theater through a singing competition that brought together a wide variety of characters, each one with a dream and an easily recognizable recent Top 40 hit in their heart (okay, I took a quick peek at Wikipedia), ambitious koala theatrical impresario Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) now has an even bigger dream for himself and his troupe of performers—pigs Rosita (Witherspoon) and Gunter (Nick Kroll), porcupine rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson), shy gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) and shyer elephant Meena (Tori Kelly)—and that is to go to the Vegas-like city of Red Shore and put on a new show at the lavish entertainment complex run by hotel tycoon Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale). Although the actual audition is a bust, Buster convinces Jimmy to finance an elaborate sci-fi stage musical entitled “Out of this World” based solely on his promise to lure legendary rock star lion Clay Calloway (Bono ... yes, Bono) out of 15 years of seclusion to make an appearance.
While Buster, who does not actually know Clay, ventures off with Ash to try to get him to sign on, the others have their own travails to overcome as the production lurches forth. Rosita is set to star in the show but when she's too scared to do a dangerous stunt, she's demoted and replaced by Porsha (Halsey), who cannot act but who can do the stunt and, perhaps more importantly, is Jimmy’s daughter. Johnny gets into a “Whiplash”-style battle of wills with a domineering choreographer and winds up taking lessons from street dance Nooshy (Letitia Wright). As for Meena, her character has to kiss someone at one point, something that she has never done before, and she feels no attraction whatsoever to her egotistical scene partner (Eric André).
Eventually, opening night arrives for the show (which suggests “Barbarella” without the lucid plot) where everything goes predictably out of control before the climax in which Clay makes a triumphant return to the stage. This leads the audience in the film to cheer wildly and the audience in the theater to speculate as to the machinations required to convince Bono to sign on to not only appear but to contribute a new U2 song to the soundtrack as well.
In essence, “Sing 2” is little more than a cross between a lesser Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland vehicle and one of those end-of-year Spotify announcements that people post online to let others know they've listened to Billie Eilish a lot over the past 12 months. Although there are plenty of subplots to be had, there is precious little story driving the enterprise and writer/director Garth Jennings could not care less about such details. The humor is little more than noisy slapstick, the stabs at pathos are almost offensively contrived, and by building a story in which artistic success is equated with glitzy presentation it weirdly undercuts its own message regarding the singular power of music at every turn.
Instead, Jennings is only interested in cramming as many songs into the mix as possible with no other thought governing the selection of tunes other than that they be familiar. The opening, for example, takes the orgiastic excitement of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” and reduces it to meaningless cartoon pablum and that's only the first of numerous musical crimes committed here. The only one that kind of works is Halsey’s take on “Could Have Been Me” by The Struts. But since rocking out is Halsey's day job, that isn’t particularly startling.
Because it doesn’t contain any sex, violence, or bad words and because it is filled with adorable anthropomorphic animals, many parents will no doubt take their kids to see “Sing 2” on the theory that there's nothing bad for them in it. In fact, I would argue that the sheer laziness on display of this soulless exercise in franchise extension is far more damaging. The best family films capture the imaginations of younger viewers and teach them the power of storytelling in ways that can affect them for their entire lives, possibly inspiring them to create their own stories as well. By comparison, “Sing 2” serves no other purpose than to waste a couple of hours. If "Sing 2" teaches them anything, it is to plan for a future in negotiating music licensing for films—hopefully for ones better than this one.
Now playing in theaters.
Matthew McConaughey as Buster Moon (voice)
Reese Witherspoon as Rosita (voice)
Scarlett Johansson as Ash (voice)
Taron Egerton as Johnny (voice)
Bobby Cannavale as Jimmy Crystal (voice)
Tori Kelly as Meena (voice)
Nick Kroll as Gunter (voice)
Halsey as Porsche Crystal (voice)
Pharrell Williams as Alfonso (voice)
Nick Offerman as Norman (voice)
Letitia Wright as Nooshy (voice)
Eric André as Elwood (voice)
Chelsea Peretti as Suki (voice)
Bono as Clay Calloway (voice)
Garth Jennings as Karen Crawly (voice)
Adam Buxton as Klaus Kickenklober (voice)
Edgar Wright as Additional Voices (voice)