Animated features depicting animals with human traits are hugely popular. SING, due to be released in December, features 85 popular tunes from various genres and generations, as well as slick animation, all-star cast and lots of talking animals. A trailer for the film preceded a screening of Finding Dory I attended and left me bothered.
The initial frames of the trailer feature a young gorilla leaning against an alley wall delivering a velvety rendition of the angsty 60s hit “The Way I Feel Inside” by Zombies. He’s interrupted when two apes crash from a second-story window setting off an alarm. The criminal apes dash past the young ape, who runs after them. They jump into a getaway vehicle where a large meaning gorilla yells at the youth: “YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE KEEPING A LOOKOUT!” The young gorilla responds ruefully, “Sorry dad.” Granted, the apes have working-class London accents, but it was immediately discomfiting. Gorillas+Crime+Gang deals in negative typing of Black males in my perception.
Then the trailer reveals the premise of SING: A theater owner — depicted as a Koala — unveils a scheme to generate funds for his cash-strapped venue: a singing contest.
This results in a lineup around the theater of widely varying species resembling X-Factor or America’s Got Talent. The trailer cuts to creatures performing on stage, including a snail singing “Ride Like The Wind” (by Christopher Cross), bunnies tweaking their cottontails to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot, along with a hip-hop caribou, crooning sheep, wailing hedgehog, pig, and elephant… all very engaging.
The trailer returns to gorillas — hulking black broad-shouldered menaces — in the getaway truck wearing rapper-style gold chains. Cut to one gorilla surrounded by rhino police and patrol vehicles. Cut to the young melodic ape in a jail visiting room looking through glass at a primate inmate in orange jumpsuit: “Dad, I just don’t want to be in your gang. I want to be a singer.” The ape in jail garb grunts, “How’d I end up with a son like you?” and storms away. The youngster yells desperately across the partition, “DAD! WAIT! I’ll get the money, I promise.”
Cue: me wincing.
The elements of this characterization and story equal one thing: this film is racially offensive. Is this racially hypersensitive? Decide for yourself, view the trailer here.
Did what I perceived not occur to Illumination Entertainment, which also crafted Despicable Me 1 & 2, Minions and The Lorax. Illumination is now owned by Universal Studios which is a subsidiary of Comcast. That’s a lot of high flying hierarchy for such social numbness.
The voiceover cast stars Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Tori Kelly, John C. Reilly, Taron Egerton and Scarlett Johansson. Singer Jay Pharaoh is also in the lineup. Did nobody sense the gorilla storyline might be objectionable? Granted, voiceover is performed usually in isolation, without full cast and not always with context. I wonder what these artists feel about the finished product.
This topic pains me, because actor Taron Egerton has proven himself intelligent and aware in interviews, talented and solid in performances. Egerton voices the young gorilla — “Johnny” according to online film credits — and performs the singing impressively. I’m a fan of his TV (UK projects Inspector Lewis, The Smoke) and film projects (Kingsmen, Testament of Youth, Eddie the Eagle). His voice performance in SING appears to be top-notch, but the casting of gorillas — which was not his doing — is wrong-headed.
Ultimately the story and characters are the creations of writer/director Garth Jennings who is known for the film adaptation of the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and comedy indie film Son of Rambow. What was he thinking?
SING is being announced for release this holiday season. It will be interesting to see how the trailer plays for others and if the issue of racial awareness reaches the boiling point.