Sing 2 serves as a sequel to the hit Illumination animated film by the same name (with out the 2, of course), bringing back much of its original talented cast of actors and musicians while also adding some new names to the roster. Impressively, Sing 2 follows the lead of its predecessor and delivers a fun, inspirational tale which is loaded with memorable tunes throughout. Notably joining the cast this time around are the voices of Halsey and the iconic Bono, joining the likes of Matthew McConaughey, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, and other returning members of Sing‘s cast. Sing and Sing 2 writer and director Garth Jennings discussed working on the sequel and working with this talented roster in an interview with ComicBook.com.
“The ambitions for the film were so much greater than the first in terms of everything, really, the music, the emotions, the scale of the visuals,” Jennings explained. “That was really hard, but in a good way, in a way that it should be. It’s just like Buster’s story. He’s trying to go as far as he can with this. And I feel like we did as best we could with this too.”
Jennings re-teamed with Chris Meladandri and Illumination, Universal’s animation studio best known for their Despicable Me franchise. Jennings calls Meladandri, “the loveliest man in the world,” which is why he has not run into any creative control issues on these films as McConaughey’s Buster Moon runs into in Sing 2. “When you’re doing music videos or in some of the projects I’ve done before, you do meet some extreme people and they have extreme people around them,” Jennings recalled. “There are some lines and some moments that I’ve experienced myself that I gave to Mr. Crystal. Kind of those jokes where people they’re really rude to you and really mean to you and then they say, ‘Ha, I was just joking.’ But you’ve just had a heart attack.” Jennings has taken those experiences, along with lessons on live-action music videos for the likes of Vampire Weekend and Radiohead, and applied them to his efforts on Sing 2.
Still, Jennings will likely be quick to admit that his efforts on the animated film are made easier by the tremendous talent attached to the film. The writer and director gets to incorporate songs from Rocketman alum Taron Egerton, Black Widow herself Scarlett Johansson, and musical legends like Halsey and Bono. “She’s crazy. She can do anything,” Jennings said of Halsey, who performs her own edition of “Could Have Been Me,” in Sing 2 (which wasn’t the first plan for her). “She is super talented. And just able to just go straight to what’s required and have this flare. It’s really rare. I mean, quite wonderful to be in the orbit of someone like that.”
As for pairing Bono and Johansson for a song in the finale of the film, “It was a goosebump fest,” Jennings said. More details on all of that in the full interview below – or in the video at the top of this article.
ComicBook.com: With Sing 2, you came out swinging again. What was kind of the biggest difference when you had that kind of experience on the first Sing and it was such a well-received original film?
Garth Jennings: Yeah. There’s a bunch of stuff going on there. It’s been over four years work, so there’s an awful lot that’s happened in that time. And there’s some lovely things which is that I’d had to move… The animation studios are in Paris and so we had move there at the beginning, my wife and our four kids. So that was nice that we already had a home. We didn’t have to start a new home again. And then in terms of the team, it was great because I’d been working with Chris Meledandri and he was great and all these people that I could keep the team, the gang together and all the cast that were coming back. And then in addition to that it was great to add all these new people there, these new characters.
So, there were lots of things that were positive and there were lots of things that were really difficult. I mean, they’ve come out great, but the fact that the ambitions for the film were so much greater than the first in terms of everything, really, the music, the emotions, the scale of the visuals. That was really hard, but in a good way, in a way that it should be. It’s just like Buster’s story. He’s trying to go as far as he can with this. And I feel like we did as best we could with this too.
CB: When the first Sing comes out and it is such a successful original property. Does that make you feel like you can have a bit more freedom with Sing 2? Or does that kind of give you a bit more pressure to make sure you recapture in a new way that magic?
GJ: Oh, that’s a good point. Mainly I felt a freedom. Do you know what I mean? Because it was like, oh, they will listen to this wide range of music. And they did emotionally connect with these characters, whether they were German pigs or gorillas from a gang. It really was lovely. And to build on that gives you confidence, I suppose. Yeah. I was really excited to get back into it. I really was. And then to work with all these new people who are amazing on top of the cast I already had. I mean, it wasn’t exactly a shabby cast to begin with, but everyone’s been fabulous, fabulous team. Yeah.
CB: I watched the music videos that you directed, the Vampire Weekend “Cousins” video and the Radiohead “Lotus Flower” video. The Vampire Weekend video relies on camera movement. Then, the Radiohead video is the complete opposite. You kept it still and you depend on the performer movement. How do you apply decisions like that into this animated medium for Sing 2?
GJ: Oh, I love that. That’s one of my favorite things to do. What you’re pointing out is how do you capture what’s great about the song. With the Radiohead video with Tom dancing, it was Tom dancing. Camera needs to just sit there and catch it. And the light just needed to focus, no distraction, super raw. I mean, that took three and a half hours to film that video. And it was an experiment and it was just raw performance. Every shot, move on, move on. And then with the Vampire Weekend thing, that track, that’s Cousins, right? You’re talking about. It’s such kinetic energy, that song. It should be just like a train that’s on a rail and the whole time it shouldn’t stop. And then trying to capture each beat.
So, yeah, taking those feelings, taking that approach to visuals and music and trying to apply it to Sing and the performances at the end, it’s all the same care and camera choices and costume choices and lighting choices are all the same. They’re built around, how am I going to make this music matter to somebody who’s just walked into the theater and maybe has never heard this song before? And trying to gel those visual ideas together. And they’re not just costume. You’re right. It’s, “Where do you put the camera?”
CB: I love how Buster goes through an experience that I know a lot of directors who work on big films go through it. I was reading an interview with Mel Brooks where he said that when an executive would tell him, “Hey, take this out.” He would just say, “Yes, right away, sir.” And then they would just never take it out and it would end. Have you ever run into that situation where you’ve been like, “All right, hold on. Let’s see if we can just test this out? Let’s smooth it… Let’s just get to the full vision and see it at that point.” Have you ever had an over-bearing executive experience like what Buster goes through in Sing 2?
GJ: I haven’t on the Sing movies because I’ve been working with Chris Meledandri and if you’ve met him, he’s the loveliest man in the world. But prior to that, yes. When you’re doing music videos or in some of the projects I’ve done before, you do meet some extreme people and they have extreme people around them. And sometimes you would find yourself in a position thinking, “This is terrifying.” Or, “This is intimidating.” Or, “Help, get me out here.” And there are some things, there are some lines and some moments that I’ve experienced myself that I gave to Mr. Crystal. Kind of those jokes where people they’re really rude to you and really mean to you and then they say, “Ha, I was just joking.” But you’ve just had a heart attack. You can’t just ha ha. They’re kind of saying what they really feel like, “I hate you. I resent you being here, but I got to keep you so hey.”
No. Luckily, I’ve been spared. Most of the time I’ve been working with lovely people. The thing is, if you work on a project you love, you tend to gravitate, it tends to draw in people that also love it and you’re going to find you’re mainly working with like-minded people. So on the whole, I’ve been lucky. There’s a few horror stories along the way. I hear them from other people like, oh, that executive likes to fire someone on the first day just so everyone knows to be on their toes. I’m like, what a waste of time there is. Just hire someone we’re not going to use and fire them. Anyway. Yeah. You meet all sorts. But luckily, in this world that I’m in, it’s a very compassionate respectful environment because they’re all artists, we’re all very sensitive. We all have to look after each other.
CB: I do hear a lot of great stories out of the Illumination family over there. Everybody seems to have a good time.
GJ: Basically, it starts at the top and Chris is lovely. And that trickles down. And if you put someone different up there, well…
CB: I want to talk about some of these performers that you have. You have Halsey in Sing 2. She does a great version of “Could Have Been Me.” I love everything you did with it visually, I love everything she did with it. Was that always the song she was going to sing? How long did it take to get it just right?
GJ: That song was late because some of the other songs were already in place. That one was changing quite a bit towards the end. I can’t remember what the other ones were. Oh, gosh, I’ve forgotten now. So forgive me of not being able to give you the alternatives. But then once we got it, we were like, “Oh, it is. It’s Could Have Been Me. That would be perfect.” But we also wanted to present that idea to Halsey to see if she felt good about it. And she was like, “Oh, I love that song. I know those guys, we were around at the same time. Great.” So, “Oh, okay, great.” What we do in that scenario is we make a demo version and then she listens to that, comes in, and she…
Actually, she took it away. She said, “I’m going to do the recording of this song at my home studio.” She has a home studio. “And I’ll bring it back in a few hours.” So off she went and then a few hours later the vocals came back and they were extraordinary. Just done. She’s crazy. She can do anything. She is super talented. And just able to just go straight to what’s required and have this flare. It’s really rare. I mean, quite wonderful to be in the orbit of someone like that.
CB: Yeah. Not only is she talented, she has such a unique sound.
GJ: Yes. That personality. And goes for it. And even in her performances in her scenes, she wasn’t afraid to really just be this loud mouth slightly off kind of… The spoiled daughter of the boss. She so got that straight from the get go. It was lovely.
CB: Is there any bit of a learning curve when the musicians come in and they start doing the acting side of it for a movie like this?
GJ: The nice thing is for them, they’re already familiar with that recording booth environment. And sometimes I’ve worked with people who are actors who’ve never done voice work before. And they’re like, “Where are my props? Where’s the…” And you’re in dead silent room. It’s the very antiseptic kind of environment. There’s no one to bounce off. All you can hear is your stomach. I know this is digressing, but you’re amazed how much noise your body makes when you don’t know about it. And you’re in a soundproof room, all you hear is a… It’s like Jurassic Park. It’s insane how much recording is of people’s stomachs just mulling things over. It’s incredible.
CB: The stomachs do move in herds.
GJ: It’s that lion growling. But no, on the whole, the recording artists were already familiar with the process and they had a great way of just knowing when they’d hear it back, is that authentic? Do I buy that? So though it’s not them singing necessarily, it’s like, oh yeah, I believe that I’m saying there. I mean what I’m saying there.
CB: Now I’m going to actually flip that because in the finale of the film we have this beautiful duet between Scarlett Johansson and Bono. Most of us know Johansson’s talents as an actress first. Bono. When Scarlett had to go kind of find a way to hold her own with Bono and she does, what was it like to kind of see that performance come to life, see that song life and develop that duet?
GJ: Well, what you’re hearing at the end there is what I was hearing in the studio. And so you can imagine, it was a goosebump fest. It was amazing. She really is so flipping talented and fearless. I wouldn’t be able to sing that. There’s no accompaniment. It’s like, “Good luck. Oh, and by the way, Bono will be listening to this when you’re done.” No fear. Just set with all that feeling. Oh my goodness. It was great. Honestly, recording the songs might actually be the most fun part of the whole process. And that moment there I remember being one of those moments where you’re like, “Oh, that’s going to work.” You could just feel it have that radiating effect. She’s amazing. And of course Bono heard it, he was like, “Wow, she’s great.” I don’t think those were his words, probably had a better version of that, but, “Wow, she’s great,” is what I’m going with.
CB: I assume it was easier than it was for Buster Moon to get Bono’s character in there. What was that experience like?
GJ: It was great. He’d seen the first film, and I didn’t know this. And we’d obviously got this character we loved and he’s this beautiful rockstar lion and he’s a recluse, so he’s all enigmatic, but hasn’t seen anybody. And we were like, oh, it would be amazing if it was Bono because then not only would he fit that vision of the character, but those U2 songs would be the sort of emotional soul of the film. And then we’d reached out and as I say, he liked the first one so he phoned me up and wanted to talk about the character. And it was a lovely phone call because he’s so passionate about music and could see how this lion’s story would be a lovely way to sort of tell a story about music, about the power of it.
And at the end of that call, that first call he said, “Oh, there’s a song in this you know. There’s a good song, you could write a great song about the song saving your life.” And I was like, “Yeah. It’d be amazing.” But I just thought he meant hypothetically, “Wouldn’t that be great?” Like, “Yeah. That would be great.” And then a few months later was like, “Here is the song.” There was no wheeling and dealing. There was no, “When are we getting a song?” I thought it was just left out there, but no, he’d gone and done it with the edge. And they’ve written and recorded this song. And I found it profoundly moving to sit there and listen to this thing with him and realize A, he’s giving me a song. B, that’s the end of the movie done. That is the last three minutes of the film. And C, I just loved the song. So I found the whole thing overwhelming, got a little bit choked, had to so long hold it together.
Sing 2 is now playing in theaters.