Animated sequels have to be one of the most difficult projects a studio can choose to tackle. Extensive production cycles alone are enough of a hurdle, as the tastes of the audiences who flocked to a movie like Illumination Entertainment’s Sing back in 2016 may have changed in the time since. Five years later, writer-director Garth Jennings has returned with Sing 2, a follow-up that hopes to defy the odds that usually stand against animated sequels, not to mention jukebox musicals. What results is a hyper colorful entry that’s effortlessly energetic and engaging, as it revels in its love of big dreams and even bigger entertainment.
With the New Moon Theater thriving, and the contestants from the previous talent show forming a cast/family to keep things going, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) is literally living his dream. That’s a dangerous place for a young koala to be, especially when he has set his sights on impressing and auditioning for the infamous Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a big wig wolf who has an eye for entertainment as sharp as his teeth. It doesn’t take long for things to get out of control, as Buster promises his cast and he can woo long retired rockstar Clay Calloway (Bono) out of retirement.
Setting up Sing 2’s story almost feels like remaking the first film’s struggles into a brand new obstacle on the course of destiny. Thanks to the Vegas-style setting of Redshore City, some welcomed additions to the already all-star cast, and an assortment of music that everyone can enjoy, Garth Jennings’ return to animal musicality keeps the heart and the spirit of his previous film alive. That said, there are some minor drawbacks to the “bigger, better” playbook that’s mined this time around.
The jukebox is refilled with songs for children and parents alike in Sing 2.
Jukebox musicals depend on songs that can easily be thrown together into one overarching story. In stories like Mamma Mia, the thematic structure is less giving, as the entire tale is governed by those tunes. Sing 2, much like its predecessor, already has the advantage of only relying on the show within the show to make sense, and there’s no problem adhering to that formula the second time around.
Mixing pop classics, a couple of more obscure songs, and needle drops from Billie Eilish as well as Ariana Grande, the jukebox in operation in Sing 2 will see adults excited to dig in. Engaging in an eclectic musical catalogue will keep everyone listening for the next new and exciting cue that comes on the soundtrack, as cast members like Taron Egerton, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson lend their voices to unique renditions of classics and modern hits.
Johansson’s porcupine Ash gets a special honor in Sing 2, as her role revolves around a significant addition to the rotation. As she tries to convince Bono’s Clay Calloway to come out of retirement, that subplot is used to integrate U2 classics as story fodder. The more pop-friendly, hyper colorful landscape of the adventures in Redshore City takes center stage this time around, but Scarlett Johansson’s performance and vocals on those songs are some of the more emotion based notes in this sequel.
Characters aren’t so much the focus of this time around, as story and showmanship take the lead.
In Sing, one of the most unexpected triumphs was the emotional motivations of the large cast of characters. Using the talent show to win us over with various attitudes and musical stylings, the focus was more on the hearts of those characters and less on the world around them. Sing 2 doesn’t discard that notion entirely, but it does shift the focus significantly away from the animal cast we’re continuing to follow.
For example, we do get to see harried mother turned stage star Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) personally deal with the pressures of learning a new, stunt laden show that pushes her to her limit. The conflict that arises from Buster being pressured to recast her with Jimmy Crystal’s daughter Porsha (Halsey) might have been more significantly covered, if things played a little closer to how the movie’s predecessor laid things out. Instead, that thread is more of a recurring challenge to the overall show, rather than Rosita personally. If Sing was about trying to make stars out of contestants, Sing 2 is more focused on getting the show on the road.
Such a shift in dynamic is something that could collapse an overly ambitious sequel, as changing things up can only go so far. Perhaps that can be attributed to Sing 2 being built specifically for fans who know these characters, and can remember the previous struggles they went through. That approach still leaves this new adventure wanting for a little more emotional depth, as even the Clay Calloway subplot isn’t enough to make up for that change.
Most animated musicals wish they had the show stopping finale that Sing 2 busts out — and many have tried.
With the show being “the thing” in Sing 2, our characters do get to grow and develop through their rehearsals. It’s just that instead of serving their personal and professional goals equally, the balance is tipped slightly towards the latter. Pressure mounts on the actual show itself not to be lame, otherwise the huge finale to which everything is obviously leading could fall flat, killing the vibe the entire movie has been cultivating.
Energy is key, and Sing 2 has it to spare; which can get really annoying if an animated film, especially a sequel, loses its way in the story process. The greatest success to which this project can lay claim is that it somehow takes an animated jukebox musical, uses every color it can think of in its aural and visual canvas, and seizes the audience’s attention from the first number. As far as “the show,” no steps are lost, no beats missed, and the musical finale that closes it all out is a total knockout that should leave viewers smiling from ear to ear. In this component to the overall formula, “bigger and better” works like an absolute charm.
Even something as simple as hearing Bono sing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” hit harder than usual in Sing 2, and that’s because the show that Buster and his crew put on at the end actually works. The visuals can be as striking as any expert animator can conjure, but if the flow isn’t there, it’s all for naught. Many animated musicals have tried to have an ending as impressive, yet cohesive, as Garth Jennings has provided with his new sequel, and the result in this one is impressive enough that fans should be left hoping the director pulls off a hat trick.
Animated storytelling continues to progress past a point where simple stories and catchy songs are married to entertain children. Movies like Sing 2 represent this medium of storytelling at its finest, allowing all audiences to be entertained in the same fashion and experience the same level of delight. Though it may not be as deep as its predecessor, this is a follow-up that still honors the original, and tries for something new but still familiar. It works like a charm, providing an over-the-top delight that families can enjoy this holiday, before or after checking out any other big blockbusters that might be showing in the theater next door.