Review: ‘The Mitchells vs. the Machines,’ starring the voices of Abbi Jacobson, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Michael Rianda, Eric André and Olivia Colman

March 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

“The Mitchells vs. the Machines”

Directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe

Culture Representation: Taking place in various parts of United States in 2020, including Kansas and California’s Silicon Valley, the animated movie “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a a few African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A teenage aspiring filmmaker, who’s about to start her first year of college, reluctantly goes on a road trip with her family when they all experience an apocalypse where machines try to take over the world.

Culture Audience: “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching family-oriented animation films that have larger commentaries about modern society.

Aaron Mitchell (voiced by Mike Rianda), Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride), Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) and Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph) in “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” (Photo by courtesy of Sony Pictures Animation/Netflix)

The animated film “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” puts a high-energy spin on the over-used apocalypse concept, by balancing heartwarming earnest about family with biting satire about technology obsessions. The movie has an entirely predictable story arc, but there are enough engaging characters and comedy in this adventure story to make it a memorable experience that will inspire repeat viewings.

Written and directed by Michael “Mike” Rianda and Jeff Rowe, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has the type of protagonist that is often at the center of animated films: a teenager on the cusp of adulthood and restless to assert independence from the rest of the family. However, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” has a teen protagonist who often isn’t seen in animated films: a female aspiring filmmaker.

Her name is Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson), who is excited to start her first year of at an unnamed college in California, where she plans to study filmmaking. It will be the first time that she will be living apart from her family in her unnamed hometown in Michigan. Katie’s family includes her sometimes-bumbling but well-meaning father Rick Mitchell (voiced by Danny McBride); sensible and even-tempered mother Linda Mitchell (voiced by Maya Rudolph); and nerdy younger brother Aaron (voiced by Rianda), who is about 12 or 13 years old. The movie never mentions what Rick and Linda do for a living.

Aaron is so fascinated with dinosaurs, he randomly calls strangers in the phone book to find out if they like dinosaurs too, so he can find other people to talk to about his dinosaur obsessions. It’s an example of the personality quirks that “Mitchells and the Machines” has for some of the main characters that set this animated film apart from others that tend to have very generic and forgettable characters. Aaron is also at an age where he feels awkward around girls. He’s too young to date but he’s also not sure how to express himself when he’s attracted to a girl.

Katie has her own insecurity issues (she thinks of herself as an outsider at her high school), but one thing she is sure about is that she wants to be a storyteller in filmmaking. Flashbacks show that ever since she was a very young child, Katie wrote and directed stories, with Aaron often being someone she “cast” in roles to act out these stories. Katie and Rick used to have a very close father-daughter bond, but sometime around the time she reached adolescence, they began to drift apart emotionally.

Katie says early on in the story: “My parents haven’t figured me out yet. To be fair, it took me a while to figure myself out. My little brother Aaron gets me, but he has his own weird interests.”

Rick is an outdoorsy type who likes to fix things, but he isn’t as skilled as he would like to think he is. Rick doesn’t really understand Katie’s love of creative arts, which is one of the reasons Rick and Katie have become alienated from each other. Linda is more understanding of Katie’s filmmaker aspirations, but Linda isn’t as immersed in cinema as much as Katie is.

Katie’s irritation with Rick grows to new levels when they have an argument over the dining table because she’s working on her laptop computer during this meal. Rick wants Katie to stop working on the computer and pay attention to the family while at the table. Rick takes the computer, a tug of war ensues between Rick and Katie, and it ends with the computer being dropped and getting broken.

But that’s not all. Katie becomes even angrier at her father when he announces that he canceled the plane ticket for Katie’s trip to California for her college enrollment. Instead, Rick has decided that all four of the Mitchells will take a road trip together to the college. It will mean that Katie will miss the college’s orientation week, which she sees as a crucial way to get to start making friends and getting to know the campus before classes begin.

Meanwhile, in Cupertino, California (which, not coincidentally, is the headquarters of Apple Inc.), a 21-year-old billionaire technology mogul named Mark Bowman (played by Eric André), the found of PAL Labs, makes a major announcement at a PAL Labs event: The company, which is famous for inviting the PAL digital assistant (a hand-held device that looks a lot like an iPhone) is about to introduce Pal Max Robots, which are essentially walking versions of a PAL digital assistant.

The Mitchell family’s road trip starts on September 22, 2020. Even though Katie doesn’t really want to be stuck with her family, she takes solace in making videos to document this excursion. But something goes terribly wrong: The PAL operating system, which has extraordinary artificial intelligence, finds out that the digital assistant will be “downgraded” and eventually marketed as obsolete, compared to the PAL robots.

And so, the PAL operating system (voiced by Olivia Colman) incites and mass rebellion of all machines to take over the world and capture humans at PAL’s command. The Mitchells are on the road when this Machine Apocalypse turns their lives upside down, as they try to escape from being captured. People who’ve seen enough of these movies can predict what happens in the story and the lessons learned by the family members along the way.

One of the many ways that “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” pokes fun at how technology has taken over people’s lives (and not necessarily for the better) is when it shows how people get social media envy when they think other people on social media are living much more glamorous lives, based on what’s presented on social media. Linda has a lot of this envy about the Posey family, a seemingly picture-perfect clan of three whose lives are fashionably curated and documented on social media platforms such as Instagram.

In a case of inspirational casting where art imitates life, real-life spouses John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, who have put their lives on social media, are the voices of spouses Jim Posey and Hailee Posey, who have a bright and inquisitive daughter named Abbey Posey (voiced by Charlyne Yi), who is about the same age as Aaron Mitchell. Abbey predictably becomes Aaron’s crush but he doesn’t know how to handle his feelings about her.

In many scenes, “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” makes clever spoofs and observations about how, if the machines we used came alive, they would have a love/hate relationship with people. Humans overly rely on technology, but think no matter what happens, people are smart enough to be superior to technology.

Meanwhile, technology has the power to being people from long distances together, but it can alienate people who are in close proximity. Just go to any party and see how many people would rather look at their phones than engage with other people at the party. It’s why Katie’s father Rick, who’s a self-confessed “technophobe,” is the most insulted int he family when Katie would rather look at a computer or phone screen than talk to him. You can bet that Rick’s technophobia is a big part of the battles that the Mitchells have to do against the warring machines.

All of the voice cast members take on their roles with gusto, especially Jacobson, McBride and Colman, whose hilarious villain antics and quips as PAL are among the movie’s many highlights. In addition, the animation conveys a thrilling array of zany misadventures, and problem solving in the midst of an apocalypse. This is not a movie where viewers will get bored, because there’s so much hyperactivity going on.

Of course, the heart of “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” is about family relationships and accepting flaws and quirks in loved ones when it’s unlikely those flaws and quirks are going to change. The Mitchells start off their road trip as an emotionally fractured family. And the movie’s message is that it shouldn’t have to take an apocalypse to appreciate family members whose love might not be perfect but it’s there when it matters.

Netflix premiered “The Mitchells vs. the Machines” on April 30, 2021.

Review: ‘Jackass Forever,’ starring Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, ‘Danger’ Ehren McGhehey, Chris Pontius, Jason ‘Wee Man’ Acuña, Sean ‘Poopies’ McInerney and Zach Holmes

February 4, 2022

by Carla Hay

Danger Ehren and Johnny Knoxville in “Jackass Forever” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and MTV Entertainment Studios)

“Jackass Forever”

Directed by Jeff Tremaine

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area, the comedy film “Jackass Forever” features a cast of predominantly white people (with some African Americans) performing physically painful stunts, as well as playing pranks on each other and some unsuspecting people.

Culture Clash: This group of comedic pranksters push themselves to the limit in how far they will go to get laughs, even if some members of the group object to how dangerous these stunts can be.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of MTV’s “Jackass” TV series, “Jackass Forever” will appeal mainly to people who are interested in movies where adults engage in a lot of cringe-inducing antics.

Chris Pontius, Preston Lacy, Steve-O, Dark Shark, Dave England, Zach Holmes, Eric Manaka, Jasper, Sean “Poopies” McInerney, and Danger Ehren in “Jackass Forever” (Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures and MTV Entertainment Studios)

“Jackass Forever” delivers everything you’d expect it to deliver to “Jackass” fans: a compilation of gross-out comedy stunts and silly pranks. The movie doesn’t try to pretend to be anything else, although some parts of the movie are unnecessary filler. “Jackass Forever” reunites many of the original cast members of MTV’s “Jackass” reality TV series, which was on the air from 2000 to 2002, and spawned many spinoff series and movies.

“Jackass” was created by Johnny Knoxville (the franchise’s biggest star and on-screen ringleader), Jeff Tremaine and Spike Jonze. Knoxville, Tremaine and Jonze are producers of “Jackass Forever,” while Tremaine is the movie’s director. Jonze and Tremaine make brief on-camera appearances in “Jackass Forever.”

If you’re easily offended by movies that have numerous scenes talking about and showing naked male genitalia and bodily functions, then “Jackass Forever” should be avoided. However, people who can tolerate this type of comedy will find something to laugh at in “Jackass Forever.” Almost everyone seeing this movie will have some kind of awareness that anything with the “Jackass” franchise name on it will have crude and sometimes nauseating comedy. Pity any uptight person who sees this movie and is completely clueless beforehand on what to expect.

In “Jackass Forever,” Knoxville is joined by other members of the original “Jackass” cast: Steve-O (whose real name is Stephen Glover), Chris Pontius, Dave England, “Danger” Ehren McGhehey, Preston Lacy and Jason “Wee Man” Acuña. Original “Jackass” cast member Ryan Dunn died in a car accident in 2011, at the age of 34. (“Jackass Forever” flashes a brief tribute to him during the end credits.)

Bam Margera, another original “Jackass” cast member, was set to be in “Jackass Forever,” but he was reportedly fired after failing a drug test. (He tested positive for Adderall.) Margera has since had disputes with the “Jackass” team, and Tremaine filed a restraining order against Margera. “Jackass Forever” has some archival footage of “Jackass” where Margera can briefly be seen. Margera is not in any of the new footage that’s in “Jackass Forever.”

Also part of the “Jackass Forever” on-screen team are Sean “Poopies” McInerney (a self-described “Jackass” superfan) and Zach Holmes. The large sizes of Holmes and Lacy are used in a “Triple Wedgie” challenge with Wee Man, who happens to be a little person. Holmes, Lacy and Wee Man are wearing white mawashi-styled (sumo wrestler) loincloth in this wedgie challenge. It’s a scene in “Jackass Forever” that might offend some people who think body sizes are being exploited and ridiculed in this scene.

“Jackass Forever” has made some attempt to bring more diversity to the “Jackass” on-screen team. There’s a token female: Rachel Wolfson, the only woman who’s part of this prankster group. She actually has more stamina than many of the men in the group, who scream in terror at things that Wolfson can endure with silent aplomb. And there are some African Americans who are new to the “Jackass” franchise: Eric Manaka and Jasper (no last name) are both presented as part of the main group too. Jasper gets the most screen time out of all three of them.

“Jackass Forever” also has some celebrity cameos, with the unsuspecting celebs getting pranked. Musician/actor Machine Gun Kelly (also known as Colson Baker) gets sucker punched into a swimming pool in a stunt with Steve-O involving a stationary bicycle challenge and giant toy hands. Comedian/actor Eric André also gets blindsided: He’s hit with a giant tube-shaped balloon that bursts out of a beverage truck where André thinks he’s getting a free cup of coffee. Hip-hop music artist Tyler, the Creator is a pianist in a skit where he plays music while members of the “Jackass” team wear tuxedos and dance on a floor that gives electroshocks through the floor. Tyler, the Creator doesn’t escape these electroshocks either.

“Jackass Forever” has some stunts that are somewhat boring and over-used, compared to others. There’s a high-flying stunt with members of the group doing BMX riding on a “human ramp,” with the expected bike crashes and falls that ensue. Another stunt shows some members of the “Jackass” group dressed up as a marching band, and they walk on a treadmill, which predictably results in more tumbles and bruises. Knoxville catapults a soccer ball at Steve-O when he comes out of a production trailer on the movie set.

And there are explosions galore. Steve-O is using a porta potty when it explodes on him. In the movie’s opening sequence, another porta potty explodes on him, with feces (or something that looks like feces) flying everywhere and splattered all over Steve-O. In another scene, Knoxville, dressed as Icarus, explodes himself out of a cannon. Knoxville comments on this cannonball experience: “It feels like a 200-pound colonic up my ass!” And the movie ends with different types of explosions, involving vomiting on a Tilt-A-Whirl and being attacked by paintball gun attacks.

In one of the funniest scenes, England portrays a potential customer at a fake yard sale on someone’s front lawn. Unbeknownst to the people browsing at this yard sale, there’s a toilet “for sale” that’s been rigged to explode. First, England sits on the toilet as if to use it, while unsuspecting people look on in shock and disgust. No sooner does he sit on the toilet, then it explodes, as people react with horror. It’s a stunt that “Jackass” has done before. “Jackass Forever” features some other recycled stunts, with a select number of the original stunts shown in archival footage.

And speaking of doing “Candid Camera”-type of pranks on unsuspecting people outside of the group, “Jackass” has a few more. One of these pranks is when Knoxville reprises his disguised persona as an elderly grouch named Irv Zisman. As Irv, he goes into a furniture store with Wolfson (who plays Irv’s granddaughter), while Holmes pretends to be another customer. Holmes then falls from the second floor of the store and crashes into a piece of furniture that catapults Knoxville up like a cannon and causes Knoxville to crash through a ceiling.

Some of the most memorable stunts tap into the biggest fears that the “Jackass” team members have: damage to genitalia and being trapped somewhere with a wild animal that can cause bodily harm. Steve-O volunteers to have his naked genitals covered in bees. Lacy puts his genitals in a hole in a box and gets the genitals pummelled by mechanical fists.

Pontius encloses his penis in a ping-pong paddle device and “plays” with himself. (Use your imagination.) Wolfson says to him: “You’ll never be president [of the United States].” Poopies then jokes, “You never know. I’d vote for him.”

Danger Ehren endures the notorious Cup Test, where he wears a plastic cup guard over his genitals, but still voluntarily undergoes assaults to his groin area. His genitals are subjected to hard punches from mixed-martial-arts heavyweight Francis Ngannu; torpedo-like softball pitches from softball player Erin O’Toole; a hockey puck whacked by hockey player P.K. Subban; and pogo stick jumping from Poopies.

Animals that can kill humans are brought into the mix to bring on more terror. (In most cases, an animal trainer is nearby to prevent things from getting out of control.) Wolfson undergoes a “Scorpion Botox” challenge, where she has to let a scorpion bite her on the lip more than once. Poopies, England, Danger Ehren and Holmes are set up in “The Silence of the Lambs” challenge, where they are put in a dark room with a poisonous snake on the loose. In another stunt, Poopies loses a “mime” challenge and has to kiss a rattlesnake, which does exactly what you think it will do.

Jasper’s father—who goes by the nickname Dark Shark and is a self-described former gang banger—is recruited as a guest “Jackass” team participant. Dark Shark literally faces off against Danger Ehren in a challenge involving them wearing astronaut-sized glass helmets connected by a long tube. A large spider is then dropped into the tube, as Dark Shark and Danger Ehren frantically try to get the spider to go to the other person’s side of the tube and into the other person’s helmet. Later, Danger Ehren has the spider bite him on a nipple. Someone quips about the spider bite swelling the nipple: “Ehren went from a [bra size] AAA to a B.”

And there are two separate stunts involving “Jackass” guys being tied up and used as food bait for wild animals. The first of these stunts that’s shown in the movie is with a brown bear that is let loose in a room with Danger Ehren, who has honey and salmon poured all over his crotch. In the other stunt, Wee Man is tied up outdoors, with meat placed on him for a vulture to eat. Dark Shark is goaded into letting the vulture on his arm, and he shrieks that the vulture is biting him, when the vulture actually isn’t. Jasper than mutters on camera that he’s embarrassed by his father at that moment.

And it should come as no surprise that “Jackass Forever” uses semen (human and non-human) as part of the shenanigans. The movie’s opening sequence is a scripted scenario where members of the “Jackass” team are making a “monster on the loose” disaster movie, using miniature sets made to look like New York City. Pontius’ genitalia is used as a penis-sized dragon puppet running amok on the streets. You can guess that this dragon doesn’t spout fire but instead spouts something else on people. There’s another part of the movie where an unsuspecting England gets buckets of pig semen dumped on him. “I’m a vegetarian!” he says in disgust after finding out what was dumped on him, while everyone nearby laughs.

Even though “Jackass Forever” has a lot of high-risk stunts and pranks, a few of the stunts are tedious and weren’t worth putting in the movie. In one set-up, Knoxville instructs Wee Man to catch the much-larger and much-heavier Lacy and hold Lacy up in the air above his head, just like the famous dance move that Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey did near the end of “Dirty Dancing.” But this “Dirty Dancing” stunt never happened, because Lacy announces that he defecated on himself and pulls down his pants to prove it. (At least he gave enough advance warning, so viewers can look away.)

The anal fixation continues in a stunt where Steve-O is in a water tank, with the idea that he will fart underwater, and a methane-filled device nearby will cause an explosion. But apparently, the “Jackass” people don’t know basic chemistry about gas and water mixing, because this “experiment” doesn’t work until they bring in a methane blowtorch to force an explosion. It’s a stunt that’s ill-conceived and looks more like a clumsy outtake than something that deserved to be in the movie.

Don’t expect “Jackass” to show anything about the individual personal lives of these stunt/prank daredevils. Most of their personalities are indistinguishable from each other. Exceptions are obvious group leader Knoxville (who carries around a small taser that he uses to randomly zap people on the “Jackass” team) and Steve-O, who has long had the reputation of being the “craziest” of the “Jackass” team. Steve-O is the one most likely to laugh at himself and others during the most insane moments.

Out of everyone in the group, Danger Ehren gets the most methods of “torture” inflicted on him in “Jackass Forever,” by doing the most dangerous and nerve-wracking stunts that leave him bloodied and bruised. Knoxville does even more damage to himself, but from one stunt: While recreating a previous “Jackass” stunt where he tries to be like a bull matador in a pen with an angry bull, Knoxville (dressed as a magician) gets knocked out by a charging bull. He’s then shown being carried out on a stretcher, and then later getting out of a hospital. After being discharged from the hospital, Knoxville tells the camera that his bull-charging injuries were a broken wrist, a broken rib and a concussion.

As a disclaimer, “Jackass Forever” has warnings before and after the movie that all of the stunts were performed by professionals and shouldn’t be attempted by anyone else. It’s kind of a “covering our asses legally” façade though, because everyone knows that “Jackass” has inspired an entire industry of daredevil (mostly male) pranksters who want to be stars on social media for doing idiotic things that could cause bodily harm. As dopey and reckless as the “Jackass” franchise can be, if the purpose is to make people laugh, then “Jackass Forever” fulfills that purpose, although some people might laugh more than others.

Paramount Pictures released “Jackass Forever” in U.S. cinemas on February 4, 2022.

Review: ‘Sing 2,’ starring the voices of Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly, Taron Egerton, Bono and Halsey

November 28, 2021

by Carla Hay

Pictured in front row, from left to right: Klaus Kickenlober (voiced by Adam Buxton), Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), Porsha Crystal (voiced by Halsey), Clay Calloway (voiced by Bono), Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), Darius (voiced by Eric André), Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll) in “Sing 2” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Sing 2”

Directed by Garth Jennings

Culture Representation: Taking place in the fictional U.S. city of Redstone City and briefly in the fictional U.S. city of Calatonia, the animated film “Sing 2” features a predominantly white cast of actors (with a few black people) voicing the characters of talking animals that are connected in some ways to showbiz.

Culture Clash: The owner and star performers of Calatonia’s New Moon Theater take their act to Redstone City, the nation’s entertainment capital, in the hopes of becoming bigger stars, but the ruthless mogul who can give them their big break expects the group’s act to include a reclusive rock star who hasn’t performed live in 15 years. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of “Sing” fans and fans of the movie’s voice cast members, “Sing 2” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching a “jukebox musical” with a poorly constructed, flimsy plot.

Pictured from left to right, beginning second from left: Jimmy Crystal (voiced by Bobby Cannavale), Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll), Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey), Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon) and Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in “Sing 2” (Image courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

Plagued by “sequel-itis,” the animated musical “Sing 2” sacrifices character development for a plot that sloppily rushes storylines and then turns into a commercial for Bono and U2’s music at the very end. The movie loses much of the charm of 2016’s “Sing” by having the main characters go off on different tangents and by introducing several new characters that are presented in a very superficial way. The “Sing” movie series (which is about talking animals, many of which can sing) also loses a lot of comedic appeal with “Sing 2,” by introducing a murderous villain that drags down the story with soulless acts of evil.

This decline in quality can’t be blamed on a change in filmmaker leadership. “Sing” and “Sing 2” were both written and directed by Garth Jennings and have the same producers (Janet Healy and Christopher Meledandri), as well as the same chiefs of certain departments, such as film editing, visual effects and music. The voice actors of most of the lead characters in “Sing” reprised the same roles for “Sing 2.”

Considering all of the talented people involved, it’s a disappointment that so much of “Sing 2” seems like a lazily conceived cash grab that does nothing innovative. The entire movie lacks suspense (there are absolutely no surprises) and over-relies on stringing together what are essentially separate animated music videos and trying to make it look like it’s all part of a cohesive plot. The visuals of “Sing 2” are perfectly fine, but there should be more to a movie than it just looking good.

Sequels are supposed to tell you more about the main characters, but “Sing 2” fails in this regard because you won’t learn almost anything new about the main characters from watching this sequel. “Sing 2” continues to have an overload of pop hits (original recordings and cover versions), but it’s less effective in this sequel, compared to the first “Sing” movie. That’s because “Sing 2” is essentially a mediocre “jukebox musical,” where song placement is more important than having a well-written storyline and memorable dialogue. Most of the new characters in “Sing 2” have hollow and stereotypical personalities.

“Sing 2” also follows a predictable plot formula for the second movie in an animated series: The main characters travel out of their home environment and get involved in new adventures somewhere else. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that formula if it’s done with an engaging story. (It’s a formula that Pixar Animation has mastered with many of its sequels.) Unfortunately, “Sing 2” does not have a story that’s very interesting.

“Sing 2” is also one of those sequels that doesn’t do a very good job of introducing the main characters to viewers who didn’t see the first “Sing” movie. “Sing 2” assumes that people seeing this sequel are already familiar with the main characters. But that’s an assumption that just makes the screenwriting look even lazier than it needed to be.

Some of the characters in the first “Sing” movie struggled with different personal issues. For example, one character has a criminal parent who discouraged him from being a singer, and that parent ended up being incarcerated for a robbery. Another character suffered from stage fright. If any those issues are mentioned in “Sing 2,” they’re vague references when they should be a little more detailed, to give the characters more depth. In addition, “Sing 2” doesn’t really mention that all of the main characters that are singers met each other through a talent contest that was the focus of the first “Sing” movie.

If you must waste your time on the inferior “Sing 2,” it’s best to see the first “Sing” movie so you can understand the backstories of the main characters and see their real personalities. In “Sing 2,” almost all of the main characters’ personalities are reduced to soundbite-like dialogue in between singing songs. The good news is that all of the cast members who sing do a very fine job with their performances.

In “Sing” (which takes place in the fictional U.S. city of Calatonia), an ambitious koala named Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) owns an inherited theater that’s in danger of shutting down due to his financal problems. In order to get publicity for the theater and increase attendance, Buster holds a talent contest that attracts several Calatonia residents, and some of these characters end up being the stars of the contest. In “Sing 2,” Buster wants to take his productions out of regional theater and into the big leagues of a Vegas-styled musical show.

These singing stars from the “Sing” talent contest make their return in the “Sing 2” movie:

  • Rosita (voiced by Reese Witherspoon), a pig who’s a harried housewife and a mother of 25 piglets.
  • Ash (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a porcupine who’s a rock singer/guitarist and a feminist.
  • Johnny (voiced by Taron Egerton), a gorilla who can play sing and piano a lot like Elton John.
  • Meena (voiced by Tori Kelly), an elephant who’s shy and insecure except when she’s singing.
  • Gunter (voiced by Nick Kroll), a pig who’s flamboyant and an occasional duet partner with Rosita.

Also returning for “Sing 2” is Buster’s eccentric administrative assistant Miss Crawly (voiced by writer/director Jennings), an iguana with a glass eye that often falls out and causes mishaps. Making cameos in “Sing 2” are two other characters from the first “Sing” movie: Johnny’s gorilla gangster father Big Daddy (voiced by Peter Serafinowicz) and elderly sheep Nana Noodleman (voiced by Jennifer Saunders), who is a wealthy benefactor and former theater diva.

In the beginning of “Sing 2,” New Moon Theater (the venue owned by Buster) is presenting a musical production of “Alice in Wonderland,” with Meena in the starring role of Alice. The show is a local hit that plays to sold-out audiences. During a performance, Buster is excited to see that an important talent scout named Suki Lane (voiced by Chelsea Peretti) is in the audience and taking notes.

Suki (who is a brown dog that can walk upright and has human-like arms and legs ) works for the mega-company Crystal Entertainment in Redshore City, the entertainment capital of the nation. Redshore City is designed to look a lot like Las Vegas. Miss Crawly tells Buster that Suki has been paying attention to the show and seems to be entertained.

After the performance, Buster rushes after Suki to talk to her before she can leave. He asks her what she thought of the show. Suki haughtily replies, “It’s a cute little show, but it’s not what we’re looking for. You’re not good enough. You’ve got a nice little local theater here, and it’s great for what it is, but trust me: You’d never make it in the big leagues.”

Buster is stung by this criticism, but he’s not ready to give up so easily. Even if his productions are considered regional theater, he knows that these shows have value because they frequently sell out. Suki gets in a chauffeured car to leave. Buster chases after the moving car on his bike, and he holds on to the car door to continue to talk to Suki.

Suki thinks that Buster is crazy and tells the driver to speed up, in order to get rid of Buster. Buster is essentially run off of the road, and he lands in a nearby canal. This debacle is witnessed by several residents who are near the canal. It’s a humiliating moment for Buster, but it’s played for laughs in the movie.

A discouraged Buster tells Nana about Suki’s rejection. He moans, “I’m a failure!” Nana scolds Buster for letting this setback make him think that he should give up. She tells him that if he doesn’t believe in himself and what he has to offer, then no one else will. Buster takes this advice and decides to round up Meena, Rosita, Ash, Johnny, Gunter and Miss Crawly to go on a road trip with him to Redstone City. The goal is to convince Crystal Entertainment to let them do a musical at the much-larger and more famous Crystal Tower Theater.

Ash already has a paying gig at a local rock club in Calatonia, but she’s being underpaid. When Buster meets up with Ash to ask her to go on the trip, he sees her backstage after a performance, right before she’s supposed to do an encore. The club owner/manager hands Ash a paycheck, and she’s annoyed because the amount is far less than what other artists at the club are getting paid.

Ash says to the club owner/manager: “I have a rule about not letting guys like you tell me what I’m worth. Unless I get paid like everyone else, I’m outta here!” And with that, she walks out of the building with Buster, without doing the encore.

The owner of Crystal Entertainment is Jimmy Crystal (played by Bobby Cannavale), who is literally and figuratively a wolf. He’s a hard-nosed, ruthless business mogul who insists that people call him Mr. Crystal. He is first seen judging auditioners at Crystal Tower Theater and giving red-buzzer rejections to every act, no matter how talented the act is.

Meanwhile, Buster and his group have arrived at Crystal Entertainment headquarters, but they don’t make it past the reception area because they don’t have an appointment. However, they go in a side employee entrance, find some sanitation worker uniforms, and disguise themselves as sanitation workers, in order to sneak into the auditions.

After a quick change back into their regular clothes, this enterprising group sneaks onto the audition stage. Buster makes an earnest pitch to offer his theater group for a musical show at Crystal Tower Theater. Mr. Crystal rejects them, of course. Buster tries to get Mr. Crystal to change his mind, but Mr. Crystal doesn’t want to hear it and is infuriated that these rejected auditioners don’t want to leave the stage.

Just as Mr. Crystal is about to have them thrown out, he overhears Gunter say that Gunter is a fan of Clay Calloway, a rock superstar lion who has been in seclusion for the past 15 years. Mr. Crystal asks if they know Clay. Buster lies and says yes. Mr. Crystal then changes his mind and says that he’ll agree to let Buster’s group do a show at the Crystal Tower Theater, on one condition: Clay Calloway has to be part of the act too.

Buster continues to lie and says it won’t be a problem because he and Clay are friends. When Mr. Crystal asks what the name of the show is, Gunter comes up with a title on the spot: “Out of This World.” It’s described as an outer-space musical. Mr. Crystal doesn’t care about the details because he just wants Clay Calloway to perform at the Crystal Tower Theater.

Mr. Crystal gives Buster and his group just three weeks to produce the show. He puts them up in the Crystal Tower Hotel and pays for all of their expenses. Buster is elated and decides he’ll figure out a way to convince Clay Calloway to be a part of the show. Ash is a big fan of Clay’s and she wants to go with Buster for this persuasive visit. Ash explains that Clay has become a grieving recluse ever since the death of his wife Ruby, who was his muse.

In the meantime, Buster works with Gunter on the concept for the “Out of This World” musical. They come up with the idea to have Rosita star as an astronaut looking for an outer-space explorer, with Gunter as a robot sidekick/aide. During this mission, she will have to visit four planets that have four different themes: war, love, despair and joy. This idea is as poorly conceived as it sounds.

Meanwhile, there’s more to Mr. Crystal than meets the eye. When an uninteresting movie like this is filled with hackneyed stereotypes, here’s one more: Mr. Crystal is really a gangster. A Vegas-styled hotel/casino owner who’s involved with illegal activities? Where did the filmmakers get this idea?

“Sing 2” starts to go off the rails in how it presents the preparations for this horrendous “Out of This World” musical production, by having the stars of the show go off in different directions with silly subplots. Rosita decides to invite her husband Norman (voiced by Nick Offerman) and their 25 kids to Redstone City. (After all, Mr. Crystal is paying for everything.) And so, there’s a scene of the kids being brats as they invade a food buffet area in the hotel and cause all types of chaos.

Rosita is playing an astronaut who has to do some high-flying stunts on stage. And therefore, it’s not a good time for Rosita to find out that she’s afraid of heights. Around the same time, Mr. Crystal insists that his daughter Porsha Crystal (voiced by Halsey) will be the star of the show. Buster is put in the awkward position of telling Rosita that she’s being replaced in the starring role. Porsha is a spoiled airhead who sounds like she’s spent too much time watching “Jersey Shore.”

Johnny is supposed to play a dancing gladiator-type of warrior in “Out of This World,” but Johnny doesn’t know how to dance. And so, the show’s uptight and mean-spirited monkey choreographer Klaus Kickenklober (voiced by Adam Buxton) makes Johnny’s life a living hell. But what do you know: One day, Johnny sees a sassy lynx street dancer named Nooshy (voiced by Letitia Wright), who attracts an enthusiastic crowd. Johnny is impressed with Nooshy’s talent, so he hires her to give him private dance lessons.

Meena, who is very inexperienced when it comes to dating, is paired with a conceited yak actor named Darius (voiced by Eric André), so she’s dreading the love scenes that they have to do in the musical. “Sing 2” has such slipshod screenwriting, Meena’s and Darius’ character roles in “Out of This World” are never clearly defined, except to show that they’re supposed to play each other’s love interest in “Out of This World.” Darius could have been breakout “Sing 2” character as a hilarious buffoon, but he’s mainly brought out for some underwhelming scenes where the jokes fall flat.

Meanwhile, Meena catches the eye of a mild-mannered elephant named Alfonso (voiced by Pharrell), an ice cream truck vendor. It’s obvious that Alfonso wants to date Meena, but she’s bashful about how to handle it. Alfonso compliments Meena on her singing talent, but she’s afraid to have conversations with him. None of these new supporting characters in “Sing 2” has a backstory or fully developed personality.

Meanwhile, there’s a time-wasting scene where Miss Crawly drives to reclusive rock star Clay’s estate (while System of a Down’s “Chop Suey!” is playing), to find out if she can get access to him. Some more problems ensue involving her glass eye, because the filmmakers seem to want to make Miss Crawly’s glass eye the main gimmick for the slapstick comedy about her. Needless to say, Miss Crawly is unsuccessful in getting to Clay. Buster and Ash decide to give it a try.

The second trailer for “Sing 2” already revealed that Clay (voiced by Bono, lead singer of U2) does come out of seclusion to perform on stage. But even if this major plot development hadn’t already been disclosed, it would be very easy to predict. The movie blandly and vaguely handles how Clay is convinced to come out of seclusion.

“Sing 2” is Bono’s animated feature-film debut as an actor. Bono’s speaking voice in this role is lowered one or two octaves from his real speaking voice. It seems like he’s trying to sound like a husky-voiced American rock star (somewhat like a combination of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits), but Bono’s natural Irish accent can still occasionally be heard in the dialogue.

As for the music of “Sing 2,” just like the first “Sing” movie, a lot of it comes in snippets of one minute or less per song. Songs that drop in for a longer than a minute (but still quickly) include Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Mercury Rev’s “Holes,” Billie Eilish’s “Bad Guy,” DNCE’s “Cake by the Ocean,” Shawn Mendes’ “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” Eve’s “Who’s That Girl” and Camila Cabello and Mendes’ “Señorita.”

The longer musical numbers are serviceable, although there are a few standout moments. Halsey shines in her biggest number, when she sings a rousing rendition of the Struts’ “Could Have Been Me.” Halsey’s version of Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” is also impressive. Johansson does nicely with her cover version of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

However, the Tori Kelly/Pharrell Williams duet of Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer” has no heat. It’s also a very tame song selection for the characters of Meena and Alfonso, who are supposed to be in the early stages of a romance. Their first duet should’ve been more of a passionate love song or a more emotion-filled song about longing for love.

It seems like the “Sing 2” filmmakers bent over backwards to make Bono and his Clay character overshadow the movie’s last 15 minutes to steal the show. In the first “Sing” movie, main characters Rosita, Meena, Ash and Johnny all had their big individual singing moments in the spotlight. In “Sing 2,” everyone seems to have to clear a path for Bono/Clay.

In “Sing 2,” the Johnny character is woefully under-used as a singer. The movie seems more concerned about showing him awkwardly learning dance moves. It’s a shame, really, because Egerton is such a talented singer. His rendition of Elton John’s “I’m Still Standing” in the first “Sing” movie was one of the catalysts to Egerton being cast in John’s 2019 musical biopic “Rocketman.”

“Sing 2” is essentially a vehicle to promote U2’s music in the latter half of the movie. There are four U2 songs in “Sing 2”: the aforementioned “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” and “Your Song Saved My Life,” which was written for the “Sing 2” soundtrack. Obviously, “Your Song Saved My Life” is supposed to be Clay’s big moment. “Your Song Saved My Life” isn’t bad, but it’s not outstanding, and it won’t be considered a U2 classic.

If you want to know another reason “Sing 2” is such a disappointing mess, the filmmakers made Bono—one of the most charismatic rock stars on the planet—a dull and dreary character in this movie. The Clay character could’ve been played by almost anyone, but it seems like in order to get U2’s music for this movie, the filmmakers had to cast Bono in this role. It’s too bad that Bono and the rest of the talented voice actors are stuck in this hack karaoke project that has a major studio budget.

Universal Pictures will release “Sing 2” in U.S. cinemas on December 22, 2021.

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