Sing 2 debuts in theaters on Dec. 22.
Fans of Illumination’s Sing should be happy to hear writer/director Garth Jennings’ sequel, Sing 2, hits all the same notes. Buster Moon’s (Matthew McConaughey) motley crew of animal performers chase stardom under a knockoff Las Vegas’ lights, where flashier stage acts and catchy jukebox covers await. It’s unquestionably aimed towards children — shady showbiz dealings are less critical than piggies in costumes — but still zippy enough for accompanying parents. Sing 2 retraces Sing’s footsteps by reassuring us that it’s never too late to follow your dreams and does so with a booming resonance heard in nosebleed sections. Did someone order a feel-good foot-tapper featuring the likes of Bono, Halsey, and Tori Kelly?
Buster Moon’s dominance of local theater is not enough for the showrunner koala. In Sing 2, he convinces gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), elephant Meena (Tori Kelly), and his other wildlife performers to audition for a residency in the bustling entertainment capital of Redshore City. All seems hopeless when wolf-in-corporate-clothing Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale) smashes his glowing red “No” button, until Gunter (Nick Kroll) starts muttering about his gonzo space opera concept. Mr. Crystal’s pointed ears perk up, and then Buster seals the deal by promising reclusive rockstar Clay Calloway (Bono) will take the stage for the first time in 15 years. The only problem is, Buster doesn’t even know where Clay lives — let the panic and lies begin.
There’s a bit more spectacle to Sing 2 since the original’s contest format swaps for theatrical productions that revamp Alice in Wonderland or take inspiration from interstellar exploration. There’s more visual pop because Gunter’s “Out of This World” spaceship singalong requires planetarium backdrops where cast members confront rage, love, and other feelings. Mr. Crystal spares no expense from wacky neon inflatable aliens behind his daughter Porsha’s (Halsey) solo to laser shows that substitute as new-wave pyrotechnics, which provides plenty of razzle-dazzle. Sequels typically tend to go bolder, blast louder, and Sing 2 brings a shiny new gloss (not just talking about Gunter’s skin-tight metallic robot costume).
Buster’s sunny disposition and unwillingness to accept defeat is the motivational warmth that powers Sing 2 despite thinner conflicts. Cannavale aggressively barks as a sleazy moneyman who neglects his daughter and threatens Buster with reasonable cause (never lie to your boss). Clay resists the spotlight on account of his wife’s death, so he’ll need convincing from his punky porcupine superfan Ash (Scarlett Johansson). Buster has to manage both dilemmas with the ease of a children’s tale where sight gags and dance parties garner more attention. As a result, Bono’s tormented vocal performance is a bit lost behind the music — prepare for a moving U2 needle drop — while Cannavale’s villainy fits most on-the-nose stereotypes. He huffs, he puffs, and he dangles Buster off penthouse balconies like a proper CEO gangster.
The meat of Sing 2 is how Buster’s troupe conquers their fears, whether that’s Johnny versus his abusive and negatively influencing new dance coach Klaus Kickenklober (Adam Buxton) or Rosita’s (Reese Witherspoon) demotion from leading lady when she fails to complete her high-jump stunt. I’ll admit, Sing 2 knows how to empower its audience with affirmations of taking giant leaps — as straightforward as Meena talking to her ice cream vendor crush (voiced by Pharrell Williams) or complicated as Clay moving on from tragedy. Sweetness reigns supreme when Johnny finds his rhythm again alongside nimble street dancer Nooshy (Letitia Wright) or when Meena chases true love, not the Hollywood faux romanticism that her hired scene partner Darius (Eric André) represents. It’s plain ol’ nice, as a genuine and earnest chorus.
The music doesn’t disappoint either, as stars like Johansson show off their pipes by reimagining songs like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll.” Witherspoon nails Rosita’s celebratory rendition of “Break Free,” accentuated by her husband (Nick Offerman) screaming praises of pride from the audience (while wrangling too many piglets). Bono impresses most when the frontman does what Bono does best — same for Halsey claiming The Struts’ “Could Have Been Me” as her own — when the film calls for one wallop of a climactic release. Maybe I’m just a sucker for storytelling as told through belted lyrics in front of cheering crowds, but count me in as a supporter of the whole soundtrack.
That includes when reptilian secretary Miss Crawly (Garth Jennings) is caught headbanging to System of a Down’s “Chop Suey” as she speeds in a Lamborghini lookin’ roadster. “These are the jokes,” as Demetri Martin would say.
Plain and simple, Sing 2 is in-tune with Sing’s wavelengths. Strengths, weaknesses, they’re all carbon copies. That’s a good thing for those who didn’t need anything to change for continued enjoyment. It’s got earworms, starry eyes, slugs singing Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while streaking across a cell phone, imaginative cosmic production designs, McConaughey’s chipper optimism, and lemur choreography. All the cutesy audition snippets of random animals singing everything from Ricky Martin to Eminem get their laughs — but Sing 2 boasts more staying power than America’s Zoos Got Talent. Even if Buster Moon doesn’t change the music and dance industry, the smiles are worthwhile.