Producers: Chris Meledandri and Janet Healy Director: Garth Jennings Screenplay: Garth Jennings Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Bobby Cannavale, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Pharrell Williams, Halsey, Chelsea Peretti, Letitia Wright, Eric André, Adam Buxton, Garth Jennings, Peter Serafinowicz, Jennifer Saunders, Nick Offerman, Julia Davis and Bono Distributor: Universal Pictures
Illumination Animation’s sequel to its 2016 jukebox hit repeats the original’s “let’s put on a show” formula, but on a grander scale. What results is a sci-fi musical—no, not Jonathan Larson’s “Superbia” about which we hear so much in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” but a preachy romp called “Out of This World” (no, not the 1950 Cole Porter flop). Unfortunately, despite all the noise and energy writer-writer Garth Jennings, his animation team and star cast generate, “Sing 2” winds up a pretty mundane affair. Simply put, it’s a matter of been there, heard that.
Matthew McConaughey returns as the voice of Buster Moon, the enterprising koala whose attempt to create a musical for his theater was recounted in the first movie. Now the cast of animal unknowns he assembled has become a local phenomenon, and their “Alice in Wonderland” sells out every night. So Buster sets his sights higher: he wants his company to succeed in the metropolis of Redshore City. But Suki (Chelsea Peretti), the dog talent scout for all-controlling Redshore entrepreneur Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), puts the kibosh to his dream by declaring that his company isn’t ready for the big time.
Naturally Buster, spurred on by his haughty patroness Nana (Jennifer Saunders), won’t be deterred, and convinces his crew—pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), elephant Meena (Tori Kelly) and pig Gunter (Nick Kroll)—to bus to Redshore and audition for Crystal himself. He also persuades porcupine singer Ash (Scarlett Johansson), who’s gone off on her own, to join them; and naturally his elderly assistant Mrs. Crawly (Jennings) comes along.
Crystal, a nasty wolf, is about to give them the boot, but relents for a couple of reasons. One is that Gunter comes up with the idea of a sci-fi musical. Another is that Buster promises to secure the presence of Clay Calloway (Bono), a leonine rock legend who’s been a recluse for more than a decade, for the show.
The rest of the movie involves the obstacles that must be overcome on the way to opening night. Buster and Ash have to persuade gruff Calloway to overcome his grief over the death of his wife and return to the stage. The show has to be written, since all Gunter has is an idea. Rosita’s acrophobia prevents her from doing the daredevil “Spider-Man” swings demanded of her astronaut character, and so Crystal’s daughter Porsha (Halsey) steps in as a replacement; sadly, she can’t act. Johnny can’t meet the terpsichorean demands of his imperious dance teacher Klaus (Adam Buxton) until he enlists the help of pretty street artist Nooshy (Letitia Wright). Meena suffers from extreme stage fright over her duet with confident Darius (Eric André) and is distracted by kindly ice-cream vendor Alphonso (Pharrell Williams). Rosita’s homebody husband Norman (Nick Offerman) arrives with their army of piglets. And Crystal turns against Buster, and when he sics his security team on the crew, only intervention from Johnny’s gangster father Big Daddy (Peter Serafinowicz) can save the day.
Of course the premiere turns out to be a smash despite all the problems, and everybody in Buster’s company—including the newcomers—enjoy personal and professional triumphs. There are plenty of romances, too. Crystal, the villain of the piece, naturally winds up getting his just deserts.
Thanks to Jennings and editor Gregory Perler, “Sing 2” moves at a frantic pace, with only a few fairly sedate interludes (the scenes between Meena and Alphonso, or Ash and Clay, for example), and even then the near non-stop music pushes things on. (Most of the songs, often heard just in clips, are pop favorites, but there’s an exception in U2’s new “Your Song Saved My Life.”) The din can, to be honest, get oppressive, but if you’ve seen the first installment that should hardly be surprising. And you have to give credit to a family film that scores Johnny’s ballet-training sequences to Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet.” The voice work is reliable, with McConaughey providing the central spark but everybody doing their part, even Bono. The computer animation is busy and colorful (some will say garishly so).
Those who enjoyed the first “Sing” will probably enjoy the sequel, but it’s playing the same formulaic song, which proves less fun on auto-repeat.