‘AMERICAN IDOL,’ animal style

 108 min. | PG

You shouldn’t miss this one: Sing is a total delight: smart, sweet, gently funny. It’s the tale of theatrical impressario Buster Moon, a koala, who, in a last-ditch attempt to save his grand but failing theater, decides to put on a voice-talent show, open to anyone. To be honest, it’s never really clear precisely how this show will save the venue (even if it sold out it wouldn’t bring in that much money) but that’s Buster: he’s a bear of big ideas and bigger optimism, and never mind the details.

One of the chief, and most unexpected, pleasures of Sing is Matthew McConaughey, who is wonderfully exuberant as the voice of Buster. More so than any other cartoon voice performance that springs to mind, he creates an alchemy with the animation that brings the character to life. I don’t mean to imply that there’s a single voice performance here that isn’t terrific, but there’s an extra spark of magic in McConaughey’s.

As is probably inevitable in a story populated by animals of all sizes, shapes, and colors, the notion that people (as these animals most definitely are) are perfectly capable of getting along just fine with other people who look different is inherent in the tale. But that goes unspoken here, and instead there’s a strong running motif of people needing to feel useful, accepted for their talents, and not taken for granted. Often this takes a gendered tinge, as with punk porcupine Ash (the voice of Scarlett Johansson), whose boyfriend dismisses her musical creativity and refuses to let her have the spotlight, and with pig mom Rosita (the voice of Reese Witherspoon), whose passel of piglet kiddies are a real handful. But there’s also Eddie the sheep, who, as a trust-fund kid, needs a purpose in life; Meena the elephant, whose shyness keeps her from showing off her soaring singing voice; and Johnny, whose father doesn’t want any son of his to be a performer. 

If Sing is about anything other than animals dressed up in people clothes and walking on their hind legs for our amusement, it is this: talent can be found everywhere, and often needs only a confidence boost and the right opportunity to express itself. That’s a nice, important message for kids. And for grownups, too.