Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Secret Song Project: Big Details on Illumination's Musical

The secret is finally out about Illumination's Christmas 2016 release...

Not too long ago, we learned that this very project was going to be a musical set in a world of anthropomorphic animals. A world no different from the ones of Robin Hood, Kung Fu Panda, and the upcoming Zootopia. It's being written and directed by Garth Jennings, the director of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. That alone was enough to make me raise my head up.

We knew that the plot was going to concern a singing contest, which I thought was kind of unique and different for a family-friendly animated movie. Especially one from a big studio. The singing contest would be hosted by a theater owner koala named Buster. We also learned that over 85 licensed songs will be used in the film, so we've got a jukebox musical on our hands... And before you bring up something like Strange Magic, I'll just say this... Context. Strange Magic didn't fall flat because it was a jukebox musical, it fell flat because of the execution.

This, on the other hand, is being written by Jennings. Again, the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy movie and Son of Rambow. He's also directed countless music videos. Later on, it was revealed that Matthew McConaughey was going to voice the lead character, and John C. Reilly was set to voice his black sheep friend.

Now, we know what it's going to be called... Sing.

The cast has expanded, too. Seth MacFarlane, of all people, will voice a mouse named Mike, one of the five finalists in Buster's competition. Here are the designs of the two characters...

There's some of Illumination's style in them, but they look kind of different at the same time. Mike's voice is described as Sinatra-esque, and that's certainly not surprising considering that MacFarlane can actually pull off a pretty mean Rat Pack voice.

The other competitors include a shy elephant named Meena (voiced by singer Tori Kelly), another is a gorilla named Johnny, who wants to be a singer but his gangster family wants him to be a criminal. Best of all, he's being voiced by Kingsman's Taron Egerton! Yes, now I'm hooked! Punk rocker porcupine Ash will be voiced by Scarlett Johansson, and a pig who wanted to be a singer named Rosita will be voiced by Reese Witherspoon.

I think these designs work as well, and I have to say the cast is pretty strong...

Some plot details, per USA Today...

Buster Moon has realized the dream of owning the theater that he used to go with his dad, but the place has fallen on hard times with nobody coming for shows anymore. Though his best friend, a black sheep named Eddie (John C. Reilly), doesn’t think it’s a great idea, he decides to put on the world’s greatest singing competition.

He scrapes together $1,000 for the winner, but thanks to Buster’s doddering old lizard assistant, fliers go out proclaiming a $100,000 prize, causing a stir in the animal world. And as Buster fights for his theater’s relevance, five characters become the top talent in the competition.

Illumination head honcho Chris Meledandri also pointed out that the competitors are looking to reinvent themselves through music, so that's definitely an interesting plot element. And again, Garth Jennings is directing, definitely a fresh choice for an animated feature, let alone a musical. As I said a year ago, we're beginning to see a slow rise in non-Disney animated musicals. We've got this and DreamWorks' Trolls coming next year, and - if various reports line up - Pixar's first musical will debut in 2017. Larrikins, which DreamWorks will ready in 2018, is also a musical.

What's cool about this project is that it won't be following the Disney musical route. I was a little worried at first that other studios' attempts at the animated musical would copy Disney's, no different from the 1990s when most of the rival studios were putting out Disney-lite animated films. Films like... The Swan Princess, Thumbelina, Quest for Camelot, and such. So it's good to know that Sing won't be trying to imitate Frozen or past Disney successes. Hopefully Trolls and the other future animated musicals won't do this, either.

Illumination has potential, as I've said a little while back. Despicable Me, I think, is a solid good family film and a strong debut. It didn't reinvent the wheel as far as animated family films go, but it at least had a lot of fun with what it was working with, and it had lots of heart. I have nothing against a plain fun animated family flick that doesn't move mountains like, say, Inside Out does. As long as the film in question is done right, then I have no problem whatsoever. But for every Despicable Me or Madagascar 3, there are films like Hotel Transylvania and Turbo and Escape from Planet Earth. Films whose scripts seem like they went through 5-10 "polishing" writers before being finalized.

Unfortunately, I think Despicable Me 2 didn't really have what made the first film work and was ultimately forgettable, and I haven't seen Minions but reception says it was dull. Hop and The Lorax, I feel, are missteps. One's a kiddie flick in the vein of Alvin the Chipmunks, the other is a pandering insult to a Dr. Seuss classic. (Though to be fair, most of the movies based on Dr. Seuss books aren't good, and The Lorax is not as bad as The Cat in the Hat or The Grinch.)

Perhaps The Secret Life of Pets could be the next Despicable Me. Hopefully the script turns out unscathed, and it does something cool and entertaining with its premise, something that's more than just a "it made you chuckle a few times, now we have your money!" kind-of movie.

Sing, I think, could be a step forward for them because it isn't going to be exactly like their earlier features. Some of the projects they have in development sound exciting to me. Projects like Johnny Express (based on the quirky Korean short of the same name), Emily the Strange (based on the character of the same name), and Pluto (based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka). Those are the films I want to see from them, and since they spend less than $80 million on their features, they can technically experiment a bit.

Overall, Sing sounds promising and I'm interested to see how it'll shape up. What say you?

1 comment:

  1. I know this movie is inevitably going to be compared to Zootopia, but it actually reminds me a whole lot more of Cats Don't Dance.