In “Sing 2,” the sequel to Illumination’s animated box office hit, “Sing,” Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) and his troupe sneak into the Vegas-like tourist oasis and con their way into mounting “Out of This World,” a Cirque du Soleil-inspired musical space show, climaxing with a surprise appearance by reclusive lion rock star legend, Clay Calloway (Bono).
The third act musical extravaganza represents Illumination’s most ambitious work to date in terms of design, costumes, animation, choreography, playlist, and performance. The theme of breaking artistic barriers was also personal to director Garth Jennings, since the “Sing” sequel marked only his second animated feature.
“The whole movie, when you break it down into its parts, is incredibly simple and relatable,” Jennings said. “The Clay story and his grief is the emotional soul of the film. There was no one else we had in mind besides [U2 star] Bono. It had to be iconic and it had to be Bono to get the songs ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ and ‘Where the Streets Have No Name.’ And he was even inspired to write the original song, ‘Your Song Saved My Life.’
“When I approached Bono, he was walking around LA,” Jennings continued. “We had this lovely conversation and he loved that the film jumped through all these musical genres: [it was] something you hadn’t heard, or something old, or something new. And he also liked the character and what it said about music and the idea of it being able to heal. He loved the idea of [Calloway] losing his voice because he was grieving.”
“Out of This World,” conceived by the dancing Austrian pig, Gunter (Nick Kroll), contains four sequences that break down barriers to achieve happiness and salvation on the planets War, Joy, Love, and Despair. “That last sequence was the most ambitious of the two movies,” the director said. “It was extremely dense in terms of staging and context and materials.”
For art director Olivier Adam, it was necessary in the staging to point out the immense contrast with the small Moon Theater in the first movie. “The stage had to welcome a fan-shaped opening system, which allowed to set up huge screens on which was projected a galaxy with billions of stars,” he said. “Three-dimensional planets complete this galactic space set. On the stage, a large circular space is where the planets can come to life. This space could disappear into the ground or rotate on itself, following the transitions from one setting to another.”
The show begins on Planet War, a primordial setting for a battle between teenage gorilla, Johnny (Taron Egerton), and the maniacal monkey dance instructor, Klaus (Adam Buxton), choreographed around Coldplay’s “A Sky Full of Stars.” “Johnny is this iconic hero and everything is lit and staged to make him feel like he’s succeeding,” Jennings said. “As they begin, the fire turns on and the stakes are raised. The theatrical elements are there to illustrate and enhance what is happening emotionally as well.”
War was undoubtedly the simplest scenography, comprised of broken silhouettes that are backlit, pointing out the shadowy aspect of a past fight. “A circle of fire brings Johnny to the center and makes the look converge on the fight,” Adam said. “Raw materials made out of stones, rocks, and rusty metals were used there.”
By contrast, Planet Joy finds spoiled wolf Porsha (Halsey) zapping fearsome aliens in bubble gum surroundings while singing “Girl on Fire,” accompanied by tap dancing, Minion-like mouse lemurs. “It’s exuberant and anytime the aliens come out, she merely pops them. She refuses there to be darkness, and it’s a defiance of her father, Crystal [Bobby Cannavale], who owns the hotel,” added Jennings.
“Planet Joy has a complex relation to light with its backlit inflatable puppets,” Adam added. “Sculptures of round pebbles placed in a semi-circle like rather eccentric totems draw the arena in which the action will take place. There’s a simple graphic aspect from the world of childhood with stickers. A lot of staging work was necessary to build the starry sky panel from which the tap dancers would appear, on a small telescopic platform, which could also move forward and turn into steps to allow them to come down on the planet.”
Meanwhile, on Planet Love, Meena (Tori Kelly), the teenage elephant, sings “I Say a Little Prayer” as a duet with Darius (Eric André), a self-important yak, but imagining that it’s Alfonso (Pharrell Williams), an elephant ice cream vendor that she has a crush on. “It was a nightmare to construct but too much of a beautiful design not to,” Jennings said. It also allowed a Cirque du Soleil moment for Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), the pig, to get over her fear of heights by swooping down to save Buster.
“Planet Love turns on itself,” Adam said. “The first part brings us to this moment when Meena and Alfonso kiss behind the backlit Saturn. At this moment, the planet swivels to show the audience its other side with its flowery stairs where the actors come down in front of the public.”
For the finale, on Planet Despair, Calloway freezes when it’s time to walk on stage to sing “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” with porcupine punk rocker Ash (Scarlett Johansson). So she sings and gets the crowd to cheer for the rock legend. “Clay was frail and vulnerable and people normally don’t want to be that vulnerable, even if they know that’s what you want them to be,” said Jennings. “Bono was so trusting and brilliant. I’ll always be grateful.”
Planet Despair comes out of the ground, circled by a vortex spiral. “It is made out of hollow pyramidal blocks, in which we can guess structures of tubular lamps through the translucent surface,” said Adam. “These lamps light up with a progressive intensity when Calloway appears on stage and intensity rises along with the growing power of his musical piece. When you discover them in the dark, the pyramidal shapes show the sadness and coldness of the place.
“It’s magnified by the lighting effects, which bring the audience into a magical moment,” Adam continued. “A large aurora borealis in the background (projected on a screen) emphasizes this magical side. Finally, the ascent of the characters towards space, on a glass plate, is a reference to extraordinary visuals from Cirque du Soleil shows.”