2016 is shaping up to be the year of the animated animal. At least a half-dozen movies with predominantly animal casts are scheduled for release including Kung Fu Panda 3, Nut Job 2, Zootopia, Angry Birds, Finding Dory, and The Secret Life of Pets. Minions maker Illumination, which is already releasing the latter film on this list, has now announced details about a second animal-centric film that it’ll deliver into theaters on December 21, 2016: Sing.
Of all the animal kingdom films, Sing might be the quirkiest of the bunch. Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri explained during an Annecy keynote earlier this year that conceptually “the starting point for the movie was, for me at least, looking at what the role of a producer is.”
The producer in Sing will be a koala named Buster Moon, voiced by Matthew McConaughey, who runs a vaudeville-style theater. “He creates wonderful entertainment out of nothing,” Meledandri said at Annecy. “It’s what a producer does: you start with nothing, and you imagine a story, a play, a musical, a short, and you try to figure out how you can will it into existence.”
If a paean to producers sounds like an unusual topic for an animated film, so does the fact that the movie will have over 85 songs in it. Here’s the set-up which allows that to happen: Buster’s theater has fallen on hard times, and he comes up with an idea to save it by staging a singing competition. Eventually, five lead contestants emerge, according to the newly released synopsis:
A mouse (Seth MacFarlane) who croons as smoothly as he cons, a timid teenage elephant (Tori Kelly) with an enormous case of stage fright, an overtaxed mother (Reese Witherspoon) run ragged tending a litter of 25 piglets, a young gangster gorilla (Taron Egerton) looking to break free of his family’s felonies, and a punk-rock porcupine (Scarlett Johansson) struggling to shed her arrogant boyfriend and go solo. Each animal arrives under Buster’s marquee believing that this is their shot to change the course of their life.
John C. Reilly will also lend a voice as Buster’s black sheep pal Eddie.
If producers are important, so are directors and writers, and Sing marks the first time that an Illumination film will be written and directed by a single individual. The studio is handing over the reins to first-time feature animation director Garth Jennings, whose earlier films include Son of Rambow and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
In its short existence, Illumination has enjoyed an unprecedented level of success, with two of its five releases ranking among the top 5 highest-grossing animated films of all-time. The studio’s true test will come in 2016 when Illumination attempts to achieve the same success with two Minions-less original films. The response to the trailer for Secret Life of Pets suggests that they’ve got at least one hit on their hands, and Sing, on paper at least, sounds like it has the potential to be yet another win for the studio.