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Illumination Entertainment has done a lot of stuff that isn’t very good, but rakes in the money. That would include Horton Hears a Who, The Lorax, Alvin and the Chipmunks, Despicable Me 2, and Minions. The first Despicable Me was cute, and so was Hop. The Secret Life of Pets was barely passable. The problem is…in a year when Zootopia blew me away and made my Top 10 list, it’s frustrating to watch something that’s strictly a money grab. And something that’s only for kids aged 5 to 12. Jokes that involve an animal turning around and farting five times in the face of another animal onstage.

This is a film with no heart. It’s a “greatest hits” list of classics, standards, and contemporary songs everyone knows. The filmmakers feel that’s enough, and you know what? They’re right. This movie is going to make a big profit, which is a shame. It’s awfully uninspired and lacking of any soul.

Perhaps Pixar does such a great job with their films because they give you a good story. Now this story, involves Buster Moon, a koala that loves musical theatre and wants the failing theatre he inherited from his father to become a success. He’s voiced by Matthew McConaughey, who does a decent job with the lines he’s given (and that’s surprising, since he was such a disappointment in Kubo and the Two Strings). Since flashbacks show how much he does love the theatre, it’s a bit perplexing that Moon comes across as a huckster. He’s decided to have a talent show with a thousand dollar prize. A misprint on the fliers states the prize is $100,000. It then becomes American Idol with animals.

The entire time I was bored watching this, I just kept thinking about how much better The Muppets did with a special called Emmett Otter’s Jugband Christmas almost 40 years ago. They had catchy songs and funny gags. This movie thinks they can throw hit songs at you, and you’ll love it simply because you recognize them. I have no clue why they thought it was funny to have foxes sing “Baby Got Back.” Now, had it been an orangutang that turned around as they sang “I like big butts and I cannot lie.” Instead, we have a gorilla (played by former “eagle” Taron Egerton) singing Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing.” Not sure how we’re supposed to feel about his criminal dad breaking out of prison to see him. Also not sure how we’re supposed to feel about a rat (who does a terrific sax solo of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”)…when the entire time he’s doing despicable things, but also has a happy ending. Why? Couldn’t he get his comeuppance? The rat, played by Seth MacFarlane, also does Sinatra tunes. Of course he does, because we haven’t gotten tired of MacFarlane crooning those.

As a music lover, it was great to occasionally hear The Beatles, Bowie, Thelonious Monk, Cat Stevens,  the Spencer Davis Group starting the film in top gear, and the terrific Hallelujah. Yet for every good song, there were about 3 bad ones (Shake it Off and Call Me Maybe being perfect examples).

Writer/director Garth Jennings needed to write something that showed a bit more heart, and why these characters would sing the songs they’re singing. I would’ve taken any decent backstory or intertwining plotlines.

We got too many animals, all of them one-note characters (no pun intended).

There also needed to be scenes that were interesting to watch. There might have only been three scenes I liked in the entire picture. One involved a pig (Reese Witherspoon) setting up a contraption Ferris Bueller would’ve envied. It enabled her to feed her 20 piglets and prepare their lunches for school, without being there.

Another scene involved a punk duo played by Scarlett Johansson and Nick Kroll (which should’ve been played by Exene and John Doe of X). She’s a porcupine that at one point shoots quills out at the audience. Nothing more punk rock than that.

The big character we want to root for is a shy elephant, who can only sing when no one’s around. When the elephant got on stage, I thought of a few cute gags they could’ve done with the huge ears, and the trunk over the microphone, that they didn’t do. In fact, I thought of a lot of ways the animals could’ve been funnier, or had done things more suitable to their traits. Jennings apparently wasn’t interested in any of that. He’s a director that has done some interesting stuff: Son of Rambow, and music videos for Blur (Coffee & TV) and Radiohead (Lotus Flower). It’s a shame that he’s not showing his love of music with this film. This is like watching a bad bar band, and being relieved when they cover a Rolling Stone’s song. Not because the band is doing it well, but because we recognize it.

This gets 1 star out of 5.

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