Sing (2016)

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In 2016, there were two films released with the same title – Sing. The first (and the one that I expect the vast majority of people to be familiar with) is the animated American movie about singing animals. I haven’t seen that film, and while it doesn’t seem that bad, I’m not in much of a rush to see it. At least not as much as the rush I was in to see the other Sing (Mindenki), which is a quaint Hungarian short film that proved to be one of the most extraordinary little films I’ve seen in a while.

Sing is about Zsofi (Dorka Gáspárfalvi), a shy young girl that enters into a new school, and becomes a part of the school’s champion choir, led by the capable but stern Ms Erika (Zsófia Szamosi). Zsofi becomes close friends with Liza (Dorottya Hais), one of the choir’s star performers. Zsofi finds herself demotivated when Ms Erika tells her that she isn’t as talented as the other children, but as part of the school director’s instructions, any child that wants to be a part of the choir will be allowed to be a part of the choir – but as evident, Ms Erika doesn’t necessarily allow everyone in the choir to sing. The children band together to try and hatch a plan to give the justice everyone deserves.

The thing about short films is that despite their limited running time, they are certainly capable of having some incredibly complex themes, and Sing is no exception. It may not be overly complicated, but it is a sweet and touching story, and in its running time manages to tell a complete story, from beginning to end, without any problem. It is not a story that we have not seen told before in various other kinds of medium, and while it may not be revolutionary in story, it is certainly deeply moving in how it handles the themes of alienation, ostracization, overcoming problems and most of all, the importance of friends. In only 25 minutes or so, Sing manages to encapsulate all these themes without being overstuffed with narrative, and that is a wonderful thing because it proves that dynamite comes in small packages (I hate to use that expression, but it is apt here, strangely enough)

I don’t think we talk about the form of short films enough. Now many people are not aware of the fact that they encounter short films more often than they expect – such as in most Pixar films, where those usually delightful segments that precede the film are some of the finest in short-form animated storytelling. Yet, these are only limited to a few minutes. What I am mostly interested in are films that are slightly longer than merely being opening-acts to feature films, but rather films that can stand independently from feature films. I think any form of filmmaking is difficult and should be celebrated, but to be able to tell a story in 20 or 25 minutes is truly a gift, especially considering a film like Sing could’ve easily been stretched to a feature length film (and I would even go so far as to say that many feature films should have rather been retooled into shorter films). Sing packs so much into its short running time, and it never feels too rushed or overstuffed in terms of theme.

Short films also bring us some wonderful performances. Sing has a trio of lovely actresses in the main roles. Dorka Gáspárfalvi is mesmerizing as the main protagonist, a shy and introverted young girl who just wants to come out of her shell and sing, but is struck down by the powers that be. Dorottya Hais is great as the star vocalist in the choir, who takes a fondness to Zsofia and helps her get her footing in the choir. Both girls are shining talents and are utterly brilliant here. Zsófia Szamosi is equally great as the conflicted teacher – neither villain nor heroic figure, Erika is a complicated character with murky motives, and even up until the end, she is morally ambigous. Does she continue with her method of exclusion-through-inclusion and give these children their dream of being a part of a championship choir, or does she stop and give everyone the opportunity to sing. She is not a particularly friendly character but Szamosi really sells the character.

I might have mentioned this in my summary of the 89th Academy Awards this year, and while everyone was undoubtedly focused on the Best Picture mishap, or the flurry of stars present, one of the most wonderful moments for me was seeing Sing win Best Live-Action Short Film, where the humble and clearly talented Kristóf Deák accepted the award, not only on behalf of his fellow filmmakers, but for his native country of Hungary, a place that has produced some tremendous films, yet they are not often seen as being one of the more popular World Cinema providers. I truly hope Deák can use this Academy Award win well, and he is in tremendous company, winning the same award as the likes of Andrea Arnold, Martin McDonagh, Peter Capaldi, Jean-Claude Carrière, Taylor Hackford and the one and only Walt Disney. It was a sweet and human moment, and I always look forward to the craft categories, because they give true underdogs their moment to shine. Now its up to Deák to take this moment and make it something incredible, which I am sure he is more than capable of doing.

Sing is a quaint and entertaining little film. It is beautifully constructed and its themes do perfectly well in filling up the very brief running time. It is a wonderful film and one I feel everyone should watch, because if there is one thing we need in this world, it is inclusion and acceptance, and Sing is a wonderful reminder of our own inherent humanity and how we are able to form connections with others through simple activities, and hopefully through those activities find the place of belonging where we all belong. Please watch Sing, it is short, and an utterly delightful film that deserves to be seen and loved.  

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