'Sing' and the transformative power of music and performance

27 Jan 2017 BY Elinor Walpole in Film Features

6 mins

Sing celebrates the power of music and performance to have a transformative effect on peoples lives, both for the performer and their audience. Set in a very human-like world (similar in its ingenuity and complexity to last year's Zootropolis), the film is inhabited by a host of talented animals who are eager for their chance to shine. Taking charge of the show is Buster Moon (played by Matthew McConaughey), an optimistic koala determined to keep his theatre going despite dwindling audiences. To save the theatre, Buster comes up with a scheme (much like that in The Muppets) to have the animals put on their own show in a talent contest, and - to pull in the best performers - advertises a healthy prize for the winner.

All creatures "great and small" are welcomed through the door for their shot at the big-time, but little does Buster know that giving them the chance to pursue a dream is also for many an opportunity for them to take control over their own lives. Shining out from the crowds we meet a range of hopeful creatures, for all of whom getting the chance to sing elevates them above their everyday worries. Overworked and overlooked pig Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) - a mother of 25 - hopes taking to the stage will make her family stop taking her for granted; young gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) wants the theatre to give him an alternative to following in his father's criminal footsteps; and punky porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson) needs the chance to step out from under the shadow of her limelight-hogging boyfriend. Each has their own backstory and reason to perform, and all find happiness in singing. It's a joy that's just as infectious for the audience. 

One of the characters with the biggest hurdle to overcome is Meena, a teenage elephant who suffers from crippling stage-fright and whose family wish she could share her incredible voice with the world. Meena is played by Tori Kelly, a professional singer making her first foray into acting with Sing after having appeared on television talent shows American Idol and The Voice. Meena's journey towards daring to face an audience, is one of the most inspiring in the film. Buster's advice to her - "Don't let fear stop you doing the thing you love" - is something we can all take to heart.

All of the performances given throughout the film are sung by the actors themselves, and Seth Macfarlane's ratpack-styled character Mike - a crooning mouse inspired by Frank Sinatra - even benefitted from the guidance of one of Sinatra's actual voice coaches!

A whole range of musical styles is celebrated in the film, from modern pop hits to soul classics, and everything in between. The soundtrack features 65 hit songs from performers as diverse as Katy Perry, The Beatles, Kayne West and Lady Gaga. The songs that each character decides to use for the final show reveals something special about their development throughout the film. As well as featuring recognisable popular music (along with some specially-penned songs), a 'theme sound' was created for each character by composer Joby Talbot, who chose instruments and beats to echo their moods, interests, and concerns. For instance: the edgy criminal underworld that Johnny calls home features guitar-driven rock riffs reminiscent of classic Elvis Presley musical Jailhouse Rock (which is sure to have influenced Johnny's look); Buster's world of flashy but sometimes chaotic showbusiness (seen in films like 42nd Street and Top Hat) is echoed in big-band and jazz numbers; whereas Meena's feelings of pressure and self-doubt are created using softer tones and string instruments.

While not a singer himself, Buster embraces the excitement of making dreams come true, but he still faces one big problem - he cant possibly deliver the advertised prize money, which was unintentionally increased when his elderly lizard assistant Miss Crawly (played with gusto by director Garth Jennings) accidentally added a few extra zeroes when typing up the competition flyers. Luckily for Buster, overcoming problems in the theatre is something that he thrives on - after all, the show must go on! Jennings' film builds on the same power of creativity and the thrill of daring to have a go that he first celebrated in his semi-autobiographical coming of age comedy Son of Rambow.

From the moment that Buster was first captivated by a performance as a child, through to the vital behind-the-scenes roles that help make the magic happen in the shows he produces as an adult, the attention to detail in recreating the magic of the theatre is fully embraced. Films such as Singin' in the Rain - and even in more recent talent-contest films such as Pitch Perfect - reveal that there's as much excitement backstage as there is on it. As Buster says, "Magic and wonder don't come easy pal.

Sing proves that - just like when it comes to filmmaking - putting on a truly inspiring show takes dedication, passion, inspiration and great teamwork, and that the best results come from supporting one another's dreams.

Sing actor Taron Egerton talks self-confidence 

In the interview below, our young reporter Charly speaks to Taron Egerton (who plays Johnny the Gorilla), who discusses the importance of self-confidence and reveals what gives him stage-fright, as well as dropping hints about his next movie... 

Elinor Walpole, Film Programmer

Elinor Walpole , Film Programmer

Elinor has a BA in English Literature from the University of Warwick. She has worked as Education and Community Officer for Picturehouse Cinemas, and as Outreach Coordinator for Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

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