Buster Moon has a dream: to be the most successful koala in showbiz. In “Sing,” he managed to salvage the run-down venue where his musical theater ambitions might thrive, much to the delight of family audiences. Now, in that toon’s jam-packed “let’s put on a show” sequel, Buster Moon and his menagerie of pigs, primates and other crooning critters head to Redshore City — the Las Vegas-like entertainment capital of their parallel universe, which is basically human in every way except for the fact that there are no humans to be found in it — to launch a massive song-and-dance extravaganza.

If “Sing 2” sounds like a shameless excuse for a bunch of celebrities to perform cover versions of Top 40 hits while animated animals lip-sync the lyrics for our amusement … well, that’s essentially what it is. Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) and friends set out to pitch an original show to oddly Trump-like hotelier Jimmy Crystal (Bobby Cannavale), a white wolf with an enormous arena to fill and nothing to draw in the crowds. Their idea is a joke, literally, and yet, returning writer-director Garth Jennings recognizes it as a vehicle for an insanely over-produced finale — more than 20 minutes of encore performances from emo gorilla Johnny (Taron Egerton), porcupine pop star Ash (Scarlett Johansson) and porcine pair Rosita (Reese Witherspoon) and Gunter (Nick Kroll), joined by U2 megastar Bono as a rocker they must lure from retirement for the big night.

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True to its brand, Illumination has engineered another easy-to-swallow confection designed to maximize audience delight, whether on first or 40th viewing, although this time, there’s almost zero nutritional value. In fact, “Sing 2” just might be the most corporate animated product since the days of “My Little Pony,” “He-Man” and other children’s toy tie-ins getting half-hour commercial space on TV. Here, it’s not necessarily merch that Universal-owned Illumination is pushing (though there’s plenty of it out there) so much as the entire pop-music establishment, led by artists and tunes from its own catalog — that and fashion, as the crew partnered with Rodarte to design the CG costumes.


It’s all part of the TikTok-ification of mainstream media, as the attention-deficit storytelling bombards audiences with a monster playlist of song snippets, some performed by characters, others lacquered over the action to keep kids engaged. While the characters go about the familiar enough work of writing and rehearsing a musical, Jennings constantly cuts away to embellish the experience with throwaway visual gags (mostly animals doing silly things) that play like 2- to 10-second viral videos. That approach speaks to a key difference between Illumination and such competitors as Pixar and DreamWorks: “Sing 2” isn’t really about coherent storytelling so much as analyzing and anticipating what will make audiences feel good.


Sure, the result amounts to a kind of jukebox monstrosity, in which virtually any song could be substituted with a comparable tune without impacting the experience (why ask Halsey to sing Alicia Keys’ “Girl on Fire” and not Sia’s “Chandelier” or Katy Perry’s “Firework”?). But think of it instead as an elaborate machinery of joy, and it’s easier to appreciate how every choice seems designed to put a smile on people’s faces. Beyond that, “Sing 2” all but defines any kind of meaningful critical analysis. How exactly are audiences meant to make sense of this world, in which everything’s a joke, and characters behave according to no logic other than what will set up the next number or gag?