Sing Out

One more movie review–or perhaps “commentary” would be a better word–to round out the year. No, not Rogue One. It’s on my list, and was even before the news about Carrie Fisher broke, but I haven’t seen it yet.

Back when I was in library school, one of the big debates was “Should libraries carry the books people want to read or the books they should read?” I’d be willing to bet it’s still a hot topic in library schools, even though the answer became obvious several decades ago: “Yes”.

Sing is the cinematic incarnation of the books at the heart of that debate. Think The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Baby-Sitters Club, or Goosebumps.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying it’s a bad movie. It sets out to appeal to a very specific audience, and by and large, it succeeds. The thing is, that audience is kids. The plot is formulaic, yes, but how many versions of it will the average ten-year-old have seen already?

The characters are anthropomorphic animals, not as commentary on the human condition, but because kids like cute animals. There are plot holes you could throw an elephant through (sorry), but the kids aren’t paying attention to that: the plot is just an excuse to stage the set-scenes they expect. And so the sudden switch from a furry America’s Got Talent to a furry interpretation of the Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Let’s put on a show” trope passes unremarked by the target audience.

It is possible to make a movie catering to the pre-teen audience that also appeals to adults–see my comments on The BFG, for an example–but that’s not the direction Sing chose. And it works beautifully for the target audience. We saw Sing in a theater full of kids, mostly between eight and twelve, and they had a grand time, laughing in the right places, and applauding at the end.

And the creators did use a commendable amount of restraint. There is a flatulence joke–but only one. There are body image jokes, but far fewer than I expected, and mostly in the mouths of characters who are supposed to be obnoxious. There’s a running joke about the characters who don’t speak English*, but the joke isn’t run into the ground. (Parenthetically, if someone with more knowledge of Japanese than I have wants to translate the insult Buster Moon reads out of his phrase book, I’d appreciate it.)

* The red panda idol group’s songs are by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, but the color-coded outfits reminded me more of Momoiro Clover Z.

Bottom line: if you’ve got kids in the target age group who want to see Sing, you won’t need tranquilizers to get through it. Crank your suspension of disbelief up to eleven, turn off your facility for critical thinking, and go. It won’t do you or the kids any permanent damage.