Director: Garth Jennings Screenwriter: Garth Jennings Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Taron Egerton, Tori Kelly, Nick Kroll, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Pharrell Williams, Nick Offerman, Letitia Wright, Eric André, Chelsea Peretti, Bono Distributor: Universal Pictures Running Time: 110 min. MPAA: PG

The mantra of the first Sing movie was that when you’re at your lowest, there’s nowhere to go but up. That holds true for Sing 2 considering how much of it is a step up from the tedium of the first jukebox musical. If only it could go higher.

I did appreciate the more compelling arching plot. Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has saved his theater but now wants to taking his singing and dancing troupe to the big leagues. Hoping to make it this world’s version of Las Vegas, he takes his crew to the big city and aims to impress the media mogul wolf Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale). Actually, media mob boss might be more accurate, considering he kills those who let him down. If Buster fails to deliver the big sci-fi musical he promises, Jimmy will toss him off the top of his towering skyscraper.

Buster also has to deliver on the celebrity star of legendary guitarist Clay Calloway (Bono) singing in the show. Clay hasn’t played or been seen in public since the death of his wife. It’s up to Buster and his other musical talents to convince the somber artist to pick up his ax once more and help out with a big show. That sounds like a decent story but the problem is that this plot doesn’t given enough for the other half-dozen characters to do. It should but their involvement is reduced to simplistic arcs of overcoming stage frights.

These mini arcs are rather minor and don’t explore much. Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) wants to be the lead pig in the show but needs to conquer a fear of heights. The gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton) is going to be doing fight choreography but feels the stress of trying to get the moves just right. The elephant Meena (Tori Kelly) will have to sing a love song but is too shy to try out something so new. All of them get by with a little nudging and help. Not from Buster, mind you, as he has his hands full keeping Jimmy pleased and trying to find a decent role in the big show for his daughter Porsha (Halsey). There’s barely even room for the guitarist porcupine Ash (Scarlett Johansson) or the eccentric pig dancer Gunter (Nick Kroll).

There is simply too much going on in this script to make any of its half-dozen storylines resonate. Further eating into the running time is the toppling of licensed music that goes overboard in trying to become a jukebox musical. It feels as though the film gave a promise that it would have twice as much music and attempts to shove in as many notable songs as humanely possible. One of the most aggressive scenes for this is when Jimmy hears stage auditions and nixes an onslaught of musical numbers taking cues from various artists.

All of the music sounds good but it’s used in tirefully predictive ways. As much as I dig the opening number of Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” placing it within an Alice in Wonderland show feels pretty predictable. Bono will also sing U2 rather than something outside of his discography. The only clever use of music is when Buster’s assistant of the elderly lizard Miss Crawly sings along to System of a Down. It’s the one moment of great subversion in a film that all but follows its previous conventions.

Sing 2 is a small improvement over the previous film but rarely ever breaks from its jukebox prison of an animated musical. There’s a better script, a grander musical climax, improved arcs, and character designs that are still rather robust. All that being said, there’s little to its assembly that will make one tap along to a picture overloaded with so much good ideas that never feel fully realized. The tunes may be memorable but Sing 2 will probably linger in the mind only briefly, fading into the other lukewarm Illumination animated movies.

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