Buster Moon dreams big for his theater in "Sing."

An animated musical for the holidays, Sing suffers from coming out the same weekend as a much better live-action musical. Even if we didn’t have La La Land in such close proximity, the movie would still probably look like the least inspired stretches of Zootopia and Pitch Perfect smashed together. The best I can say for this movie is that it’s much less bad than Trolls, which it’s largely replacing in the multiplexes. When Sing concentrates on the music in the last 20 minutes or so, it’s actually watchable.

Buster Moon (voiced by Matthew McConaughey) is a koala who owns a theater that’s failing financially, so he decides to save it by putting on a different kind of show, though the movie is rather unclear on what kind of shows he was putting on that flopped. Anyway, he’s going to hold a singing contest for all the animals who want to compete. He has no trouble drawing them, thanks to a typo that makes them think the cash prize is 100 times greater than it is.

That would be enough plot for this movie. Unfortunately, writer-director Garth Jennings (whose live-action credits include The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Son of Rambow) proceeds to spread the script way too thin by flitting among the singing animals who get to the final round, giving each of them an unsatisfying barely sketched-in plotline. The movie’s musical references range from Puccini to Gipsy Kings to Carly Rae Jepsen, and they wink by so quickly that we can’t get a purchase on them. This is especially true in the montage of failed auditioners, a golden comic opportunity that the movie heedlessly speeds over. The movie takes weird detours into Buster’s attempts to secure financing and forgets to make him interesting enough to hold the center of all this. And why cast a fine singer like John C. Reilly (as a rich-boy sheep) and then give him nothing to sing?

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There is a nice sight gag when a bankrupt Buster gets back into his old car-washing job, and a running gag with a J-pop singing group of foxes that could have yielded more. The late Leonard Cohen gets a tribute here that his fans couldn’t have possibly imagined. Yet the movie doesn’t really find a groove until very late, when the final round of the singing contest comes up and the movie finally settles down to watch the performances. Reese Witherspoon (as an underappreciated mother of 25 piglets) picks her way daintily through “Shake It Off,” while Kingsman‘s Taron Egerton (as a soul-singing gorilla) acquits himself well with “I’m Still Standing.” Scarlett Johansson is usually least interesting when she’s singing, but (as a punk-rocker porcupine) she turns in a creditable version of the original song “Set It All Free.” Seth MacFarlane (as a jazz-crooning mouse) gets a bunch of jazz standards that suit his voice well, and Tori Kelly (as a stage fright-suffering elephant) rounds things off with a floorboard-rattling version of “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” All this star power and musical talent in the voice cast is great. It should have gone for more.