The latest release from Illumination Studios—who brought us the Minions—has broad and obvious appeal, with an all-star voice cast performing a slew of popular songs. But its secret weapon is a man whose name is virtually unknown: Eric Guillon. He’s the man responsible for the funny, fanciful characters and production design in most of Illumination’s animated films. He created the memorably stylized version of Manhattan in The Secret Life of Pets and he’s the one who makes us smile when we look at the menagerie on display in Sing. Who wouldn’t react that way when presented with a singing, dancing pig in sparkly spandex?

Goodness knows the story doesn’t amount to much. A koala named Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) presides over a theater that’s hit hard times. His last chance to save the place is to stage a talent contest which attracts a motley collection of contestants.

That slender narrative is the clothesline on which is hung a series of vocals, and for the most part are enjoyable and upbeat. The songs range from The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” to Frank Sinatra’s anthem “My Way” with everything from Stevie Wonder to Leonard Cohen in between. The performers include Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Seth MacFarlane, Jennifer Hudson, and such relative newcomers as Taron Egerton and Tori Kelly, whose magnificent voices provide some of the soundtrack’s standout moments.

Some animated features have staying power as parents can confirm from the number of times their kids want to revisit the movies at home. This slick production, directed by Garth Jennings, is more like fast food—easily digested and just as easily forgotten. But it’s innocuous, the songs are well chosen, and those funny-looking characters of Guillon’s offer some visual pizzazz.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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May 2024