Reese Witherspoon, Taron Egerton and Scarlett Johansson Belt Their Hearts out in ‘Sing’

Sing” traverses familiar territory but finishes off strong. The animated animal film tells the story of lifelong theater junkie koala (Matthew McConaughey) as he attempts to save his ailing stage with a city-wide singing competition. McConaughey is joined by Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and Taron Egerton as a variety of anthropomorphic beasts with an undying passion for music and the talent to match. Their performances, featuring 85 hit pop songs, are sure to get your feet tapping, and the tactile animation style is a wonder to behold.

It goes like this: When his father took him to the local theater at age 6, koala, Buster Moon, ditched his dream of becoming “the first koala in space” and fell in love with the magic of musical theater. Moon now owns the very same theater he had first attended, which he operates along with his secretary Ms. Crawly, a lovable but senile iguana with a glass eye and adorable, elderly person tennis shoes. Moon is plagued by a string of less-than-stellar productions and bends over backwards to avoid ominous phone calls from the bank, but he remains the eternal – and perhaps delusional – optimist. Moon dons his rose-colored glasses to pitch his idea for his next show, which he believes is sure to be a hit: a singing competition. Eddie the sheep (John C. Reilly), Moon’s friend and the son of a wealthy benefactor, responds by giving voice to the complaint of dubious audience members: “Who wants to see another one of those?”

But the movie proves the skeptics wrong as the grand finale of “Sing” is more than energizing enough to make up for a slow overarching storyline and a conventional premise. There are certain echoes of “Zootopia” in “Sing’s” animal-filled metropolis, but the film leaves the race metaphors largely unexplored and instead chooses to focus on the particular quirks of each contestant. Indeed, the greatest strength of this movie lies with its deeply relatable and compelling characters.

After introducing Buster Moon, “Sing” zips across the city to meet the supporting cast: Rosita the pig (Witherspoon), a peppy housewife who croons Katy Perry songs while preparing her 25 piglets for school; Ash the emo teenage porcupine (Johansson), the backup singer for her boyfriend; Johnny the gorilla (Egerton) sings soulful music in an alley while halfheartedly participating in his father’s gang activities; Meena the elephant (voiced by singer Tori Kelly), who has a hell of a vocal range but clams up with stage fright; and Mike the mouse (MacFarlane), an egomaniac street musician with a mean streak. Each character is stuck in a rut – but singing, they believe, will set them free. Indeed, the song that the characters chooses to sing in the final performance of the film reflects overall arc of each individual.

It’s the second animal-centric, animated film of the year from Illumination Entertainment (following July’s “The Secret Life of Pets”), and was written and directed by Garth Jennings who voices Ms. Crawly) and co-directed with animator Christophe Lourdelet.

There are some elements of “Sing” that are too clearly aimed at children under the age of 10, such as the recurring gag involving Ms. Crawly’s glass eyeball and the appearance of a farting buffalo. Words of wisdom such as “Don’t let fear hold you back from doing the thing you love!” and “Once you hit rock bottom, there’s nowhere to go but up!” may feel trite to more mature audiences. Nevertheless, “Sing” dazzles with soulful performances and eye-popping visuals. Perhaps Buster Moon was onto something after all.

Sing” opens nationwide on Dec. 21.