may not be up to the level of some of the animated classics we've had this past year like Zootopia
, Kubo and the Two Strings
and April and the Extraordinary World
, but in all honesty, it's probably my favorite film to come out of the Illumination Studio (the Despicable Me
movies and Secret Life of Pets
). This is a vibrant film with a large cast of likable characters that I honestly kind of wish I could see in another movie. Most importantly, as this is a musical, it also has a fantastic soundtrack with over 60 songs featured that cover the past 50 years or so of music.
Much like Zootopia
, the film takes place in a world made up entirely out of animals, though the settings are much less realized and developed than in the Disney film. The simple story focuses on Buster Moon (voiced by an energetic Matthew McConaughey), a down on his luck koala with big dreams of saving the theater that he runs and has recently hit hard times after a string of flop productions. He figures the best way to save his business is to hold a singing competition with a cash prize of $1,000. However, thanks to a mishap involving his elderly and not-quite-right in the head secretary (voiced by the film's writer-director, Garth Jennings), the cash prize is accidentally advertised as $100,000, and pretty much every mammal in the local area turn out to audition. So, it's the old "Hey, gang, let's put on a show in order to save our home!" plot that used to dominate Hollywood musicals of the 30s and 40s. What helps the film stand out a little bit more are the characters that have been created to participate in the contest.
We're immediately drawn in by Buster Moon's endless optimism, as well as the performance by McConaughey, but he's just the tip of the iceberg in this talented menagerie that the film gives us. First we have Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who happens to be an overworked stay at home mom with over 20 piglets and an inattentive husband. Music and singing is the one thing that keeps her sane, and this contest gives her a chance to stand out for the first time. Next up is Mike (Seth MacFarlane), a mouse with the voice of Frank Sinatra and whose dreams of the good life often finds him living beyond his means. There's also Ash (Scarlett Johansson), who quickly rose to be my personal favorite of the hopefuls. She's a rebellious porcupine with a hard rock spirit and a broken heart, as her unfaithful and less talented boyfriend (who was part of her band) left her when she was chosen for the singing competition over him. Johnny (Taron Egerton) is a soulful gorilla torn between his dream of singing professionally and his father, a bank robber who wants his son to be part of his criminal gang. Finally, there's Meena (Tori Kelly), an elephant with big talent, but she is too nervous to stand out on stage.
is a movie that can easily be labeled a "crowd pleaser", and it definitely succeeds at being that. It's easy to get behind the film's animal cast, portrayed as relatable down on their luck types who keep hope alive through music. The filmmakers have done a good job of balancing these characters out, so that everyone gets enough screentime, and no one character stands out above the others. Watching the film and the characters unfold, I often found myself thinking that I would love to see a stand alone animated feature focused on some of the singing hopefuls, especially Ash and Johnny, who seem to get the most emotion in their individual storylines. Regardless, it's these characters that make the film rise above its rather basic plot, and will probably help hold the attention of adult animation fans.
And then there is the music, which the filmmakers obviously spent a lot of time and money on securing the rights to a large number of fantastic songs that range from hits from the 60s to the present day. Each song is not only perfectly chosen, but also well performed by the talented cast. The only problem is that in fitting over 60 individual songs into a movie that runs roughly 100 minutes, we obviously only get to hear small snippets of most of them. It's not until the climax during the big show that we finally get to see what these performers can do. Still, the soundtrack covers a wide variety of musical styles and hit songs, and should include favorites for just about anyone in the audience. The filmmakers obviously understood how important the soundtrack would be for a film like this, and have succeeded beautifully.
is really just a bighearted movie that doesn't really do anything special, but is consistently enjoyable due to the energy that the cast and crew have put into it. It's warm, vibrant, colorful and a lot more fun than you might expect walking in. If anything, it's almost certain to have you looking up songs on line as soon as you get home.