By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—It’s been five years since “Sing,” the musical animated comedy from Illumination, the same studio that created the successful “Despicable Me” franchise and its spinoffs, brought down the house in movie theaters featuring a menagerie of tuneful anthropomorphic animal performers vying in a grand singing competition, led by an improbable panda impresario named Buster Moon. Starring a voice cast of notable performers including Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and others, the $75 million film raked in more than $634 million in worldwide box office receipts.
Well, the troupe finally reunites for an encore in “Sing 2,” with—can you believe it—more stars, a more ambitious story and even more amazing visuals. As Buster would say, “Dream big dreams.”
This time around, the ever-optimistic Buster (voiced by McConaughey) decides it’s time to launch the most dazzling stage extravaganza yet with his cast of performers. His goal is to take them to Las Vegas-like Redshore City where they will perform at the Crystal Tower Theater, one of the city’s top venues. But first, they have to convince Jimmy Crystal (voiced by Bobby Cannavale) that they’re worthy. When Crystal turns them down flat, Buster does what any good promoter would do, he lies and informs the tycoon that he can produce the world-famous yet reclusive rock star Clay Calloway (voiced by U2 frontman Bono) for a one-night-only show. Crystal agrees and preparations get underway for the unprecedented undertaking that includes out-of-this-world sets including a spaceship.
Just one problem, Buster has to find and then convince the participation of Calloway, a white-maned lion who has shut himself away from the world for 15 years following the death of his beloved wife. Even if Buster manages to convince the elusive rock star to join his troupe, he also is dealing with an outbreak of various crises afflicting his cast of regulars, some of whom are having self-doubts about their ability to move up to the big time. He also is forced to add Porsha (voiced by singer/songwriter Halsey), Crystal’s spoiled and annoying daughter, into the show. Will Buster and his crew be able to overcome all their obstacles, including delivering Clay Calloway to the stage for the grand finale? Audiences will simply have to go to the movie theater and see. Universal Pictures’ and Illumination’s “Sing 2” opens exclusively in theaters Wednesday Dec. 22.
Joining the previous “Sing” voice cast are Cannavale, Letitia Wright, Halsey, Eric Andre and more. They join returnees McConaughey, Johansson, Witherspoon, MacFarlane, Taron Egerton, Pharrell Williams, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, and others.
As was the case with the original animated musical, “Sing 2” is filled with songs: 40 classics from pop to rock, K-pop to Latin, and artists ranging from Billie Eilish, Drake, The Weeknd, Prince, Taylor Swift, BTS, Cardi B, and more. Plus, “Sing 2” boasts three classic U2 songs, plus a new original song written especially for the film, “Your Song Saved My Life,” the first new song from U2 since 2019.
Like Illumination’s predecessor, “Despicable Me,” which launched Gru’s overall-wearing yellow capsule characters known as Minions, “Sing 2” introduces the audiences to “The Nightcleaners,” bug-eyed creatures who not only do the housekeeping at the Crystal Tower Theater, they also reveal their mad tap-dancing skills in one of the film’s show-stopping numbers.
Frontrowfeatures.com caught up with returning writer/director Garth Jennings (who also reprises his Miss Crawly character) at Los Angeles’ famed The Greek amphitheater to talk about making the long-anticipated sequel, and getting more superstars including Bono onboard.
Angela Dawson: It’s been five years since the first “Sing.”
Garth Jennings: What have I been doing? (He laughs.) These things take forever. Obviously, it wasn’t helped by having a pandemic. Also, the ambition for this film was just so much greater than the first. They’re really in tandem with the characters; the characters are trying to go to the next level and put on a bigger show.
If you think about the first film’s ending, we just have the ruins of a theater, a piano and a couple of lights. That’s it. With this one, you’ve got spaceships (sets) and flying sequences and fire and extras so that takes more work, more time and you want to do it well. It can’t just be spectacular; you’ve got to feel it. You’ve got to feel like you’re immersed in it and that takes time to get the rhythm of the story right and to create this incredible visual scope that you’re after.
Dawson: Were you already thinking of a plot for the sequel while finishing up the first Sing?
Jennings: Yes. It was very gently being mulled around. (Illumination Studios chief) Chris Meledandri said it would be great if they could go there, if they could go on that kind of journey. I thought it would be fantastic. I’d love to see the cast try to pull off the biggest show they possibly could—to realize their dreams.
It’s like when musicians are young and they dream of one day playing Madison Square Garden or an actor wanting to be on Broadway. But the (Sing cast) has the dream of having a big song and dance show but there’s also the pitfalls of trying to make that happen. That is an epic journey—not just the show but the world around it.
Dawson: Not only do you have more visuals in this but you also have more stars in this—world-famous musicians. How did you come up with the concept of Bono coming on board with the Sing crew trying to get them into their show?
Jennings: He was one of the new characters along with Halsey and xxx and Leticia Wright. Bono’s character was one that absolutely had to occupy a different personality from the first film. We loved this idea that Buster had promised this rock legend, this icon that was universally known in this world but that no one had seen for a long, long time. So, he’s going to have to find this mysterious, enigmatic character and also get to the root of why that character had become a recluse. We thought who would be the ultimate rock star, and that turned out to be Bono. That voice. That lion’s mane. It just felt like a perfect fit.
You pitch these things out thinking they’re bound to say no. Bono is pretty busy all the time. When he’s not on tour, he doing all kinds of amazing charity work. It’s not like he’s sitting around doing nothing. So, I didn’t know what to expect. But I couldn’t believe the enthusiasm I got from him from the get-go. He said he so loved the first film and knew that we loved music because of the way we used it in the first one. He also loved the concept of a lion with a sort-of broken heart and to bring him back through music.
I can’t believe that worked out and he was so lovely and easy to work with. You couldn’t ask for a nicer collaborator. He’s really enthusiastic and really smart. He completely understood what we’re doing as well.
Dawson: Did he pick the lion as his character?
Jennings: It was always a lion. It’s like what’s an animal that when he you first see it you’re in awe? It’s a lion. Plus, because he’s playing an older character, it was a great way with the mane to express age and experience really well. And then there’s the voice, when it comes out, I felt it has to be a lion, and we had to find someone that could fit that. He would smoke a couple of cigarettes before his recording sessions to get really gravelly and then he’d come in and perform very close to the mic. It was great.
Dawson: You can tell it’s Bono but he’s also playing a character with a whispery voice.
Jennings: Yeah, I was so impressed by that and his dedication to it because it’s not easy to do. Anyone can do a voice but to really make it authentic and really make it feel like it’s coming out of that animated character, who really is hurt and broken, he’s got to really switch it around. When you’re watching it as an audience member, you take all that stuff for granted, hopefully. It feels natural. But you’ve got to work to get there and not be afraid to be a little vulnerable and afraid. He really went there for us on this.
Dawson: Did you ask him to write a new song for this because you use some U2 songs in this?
Jennings: No, he came up with that. When we had the first conversation about the film, I was describing the character and the journey and the music. He loves to talk about music and what it’s like to be a singer and what singing means to him. At the end of the conversation, he said, “There’s a song in this. It would be a song about bringing somebody back (from grief) and saving his life.” I said, “That would be fantastic. I’d like that.” Then we didn’t talk about it again for ages but when we first started recording his lines for the scenes, he said, “By the way, I’ve recorded that song.” He played it off his phone. It’s pretty much what you hear in the movie; it’s only a little bit different. I was like, A, he’s recorded a song and B, it’s lovely, and C, that’s the end of the movie. That’s literally it. For the last three minutes of the film—with the exception of a little dialogue for storytelling—that’s all you hear. But I loved that that happened. It truly was a miracle. That’s who we’re dealing with.
Dawson: You have additional famous singers in this. Halsey, for example, plays a character who has a show-stopping number in this. Can you talk about your other new cast members?
Jennings: Halsey is one of those people who whatever she does, she’s great at it. Have you seen her paintings? She doesn’t just write songs—they’re huge and wonderful. When she was performing with me, I couldn’t believe how quickly she went was able to come in and bang it out with exactly what I was after. She was able to zero in on exactly what was needed. It’s so lovely to see somebody that’s that multitalented. She was just a pleasure and clearly was enjoying the process too.
I cannot believe the caliber of people in this film and what they brought to it. They didn’t just turn up and say a line and leave. They really went for it—found the accents and the tones. They came back and redid things that weren’t quite right. I can’t say enough about any of them, really.
Dawson: Do you feel a bit like Buster yourself in terms of being the ringleader of this huge operation?
Jennings: The real ringleader of this whole operation is Chris Meledandri. He started Illumination and is the producer and driving force behind all of these films, including “Sing.” But as far as relating to Buster, I could relate to him as this insanely romantic fool who believes he can do this stuff, and he starts to realize that he’s in over his head. That’s a relatable trait but also the pleasure I get from putting on a show or, in this case, a film. I love working with artists and choreographers and singers and producers and animators and I love being part of the circus. It’s the best job in the world and it’s also terrifying. Getting here hasn’t been easy but it’s all worth it for that moment when you connect to people. It’s beautiful.