Sing 2, like its 2016 predecessor, Sing, features a menagerie of singing cartoon animals auditioning for a show—only this time, the stakes are much higher. In the new animated feature, which opens in theaters December 22, the troupe lands a gig at a larger-than-life Vegas-style venue by recklessly promising to enlist a reclusive superstar, Clay Calloway, whose leonine growl is provided by U2 singer Bono.
Matthew McConaughey once again lends his voice to Buster Moon, a diminutive koala bear with big dreams for his troupe of crooning critters. That includes teen porcupine rocker Ash, voiced by Scarlett Johansson. “Like my daughter, who’s seven, I’ve also been wondering ‘where is the sequel?’ all these years,” Johansson says. “It’s been a long time in coming. I’m very, very excited.”
Other returning performers include Reece Witherspoon as the singing mama pig Rosita and Taron Egerton as the soulful gorilla Johnny. There also are some new characters, like Mr. Crystal, a big, bad wolf voiced by Bobby Cannavale, and Nooshy, a street-dancing lynx played by Letitia Wright.
The soundtrack includes songs by Billie Eilish, Halsey, Pharrell Williams and the Colombian electro-cumbia group Stereo Bomb. “There’s so much great music tying all the storylines together,” says Tori Kelly, who plays the soulful elephant Meena, “and these messages, like following your dreams and not giving up.”
Garth Jennings, who produced music videos for Radiohead and R.E.M., wrote and directed both Sing movies. He says the original idea came from producer Chris Meledandri, who heads the animation company Illumination.
“He’d seen my film Son of Rambow—it was a sort of coming-of-age period film with two kids making a sequel to Rambo,” says Jennings. “I still think it’s funny that he thought, ‘Oh, that guy could be good for the singing animals thing.’ But it is a sensibility, a sense of humor and emotional sort of thing, that he kind of could see in my work. Joy and wonder, and seeing characters put on a show.”
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That simple let’s put on a show premise is what Sing and Sing 2 are all about. Johansson says she found Jennings’ sunny disposition endearing. “Garth is extremely nice,” she says. “Part of that is he has just a generosity of spirit. And he’s kind of a sap, and he sort of like cries at the drop of a hat.”
Jennings says he based the character Rosita on his wife. “She’s the most extraordinary human being I’ve ever met. She’s fabulous in every sense,” he says. The couple have four sons. “We were in the midst of all these children, and it was chaos. And I find her coping skills remarkable. I don’t understand how she does it.” he adds.
“I don’t think my wife was too thrilled when I said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing a pig. It’s kind of based on you,’ Jennings recalls. “And she’s like: ‘Great, could it not be like a nice sort of gazelle or a, you know, a beautiful bird?’ Obviously, Rosita in the movie has many, many more piglets than we have children. But the feeling’s the same, that feeling of like, wow, we’re overrun, we’re overrun.”
Some of the piglets in the first Sing, he adds, were voiced by their sons. “We used recordings made of our dinnertime,” he reveals.
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Jennings didn’t have to work hard coaxing Bono to play Clay Calloway, the reluctant rock-legend lion. The U2 singer even wrote an original song for Sing 2, “Your Song Saved My Life.” On the Today show, he talked about working with Jennings to develop the grieving lion’s persona. “At first I thought, can I do it like Jack Nicholson?” Bono recalled. “He said, ‘no, better do it like a lion—find that voice.’ And eventually, I suppose I got that kind of growl.”
Speaking of voices, it’s Jennings who plays Miss Crawley, the elderly iguana with a glass eye who assists Buster Moon. In Sing 2, she sheds her frail persona, barking orders during rehearsal, and speeding off in a Ferrari listening to head-banging music to find Clay Calloway.
In writing the character, Jennings was inspired by Miss Trixie from the book Confederacy of Dunces, and Julie Walter’s character from a sketch in the British TV comedy The Victoria Wood Show.
“Julie Walters would come in carrying a tea tray in for the lady, sort of just making a big fuss of it, she’d sort of shiver and shake,” he says. “I could be Miss Crawley all day long—I love her.”
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Scarlett Johansson, Tori Kelly and Bono gamble big for superstardom in ‘Sing 2’