Who else could get Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, and Scarlett Johansson to sing Top 40 hits as a koala, pig, and porcupine, respectively?
Only the wild minds of Illumination Entertainment could lasso such A-listers to go full animal for the latest pic from the filmmakers behind Minions and Despicable Me: Director Garth Jennings’ ensemble musical, Sing, which follows a wily producer named Buster Moon (McConaughey) who puts on a singing competition to save his theater and inspire some dreams in the process.
It turns out, even animals have fantasies of stardom, and that explains why the cast of Sing is stacked with certifiable superstars — all of whom have a shot at winning the contest and emerging on the top of the charts, thanks to a soundtrack of more than 65 song covers, from the Beatles to Kanye.
The participants, as gorgeously assembled in EW’s exclusive cast portrait above, span the species spectrum: There’s Taron Egerton’s Johnny, a soulful gorilla who wants to break out of the family crime business; Meena, a shy elephant teen who bears the ferocious vocals of Tori Kelly; Scarlett Johansson’s prickly porcupine, Ash; Seth MacFarlane’s Sinatra-spewing mouse, Mike; Gunter (Nick Kroll), a German pig; and Rosita, Reese Witherspoon’s put-upon mother of 25 piglets, who puts her own dreams on hold for her children. (See below for another shot of McConaughey with Buster Moon.)
“There’s something really wish-fulfilling about it all,” Witherspoon tells EW of the project. “We all have secret desires and part of us feels like no one sees our real talent, or our sort of true self. My character is the mom who does everything for everybody, and nobody seems to notice that she has bigger dreams and desires. I think there’s something really beautiful about our secret dreams being fulfilled.”
Witherspoon has gone down the animated route before (“My secret trick is eating M&Ms — they make me go completely nuts,” she giggles) but is in new territory with such a starry cast, a red-hot director in Jennings, and executive producer Chris Meledandri, the overseeing mind of Illumination.
“This was one of those wonderfully organic casting processes where we talked about our ideal voice for each role, and virtually everybody said yes,” says Meledandri. “I think it’s resulted in certainly one of the strongest casts that I’ve ever worked with.” McConaughey, for instance, was a particularly inspired choice as leading man Buster, Meledandri adds: “We were looking for somebody whose voice carried an immediate sense of charm…we felt we could take the character to places where we could experience his flaws and still remain connected to him. Matthew embodies that vulnerability while still being very, very confident, and he loves to play characters that have tremendous conviction.”
As is the case with big-ticket animated films, much of the cast didn’t get to work together, but Witherspoon says the experience was a bonding exercise regardless. “I thought they did a really nice job connecting us…we sort of became a little family, because none of us really saw each other [during] the process, so the little times where we would touch each other’s shoulders or hold hands or encourage each other were unexpected for me,” says the Oscar winner. “Because I hadn’t done it with Matthew. I didn’t see Scarlett the whole time. I never even met Jennifer Hudson!”
And that doesn’t even include the handful of cast members she didn’t know were in the ensemble until they filled her in: “I was doing the White House Christmas tree lighting last year, and Tori Kelly was like, ‘I’m in Sing with you!’ and I was like, ‘You are?! That’s so great!’” laughs Witherspoon. “She’s amazing, and such a young talent. And I was on SNL last year, and Leslie Jones was like, ‘I’m in Sing.’ And so was Jay Pharaoh. Like, we’re all in this movie together! It’s a fun connection.”
Sing arrives in theaters on Dec. 21, from Illumination Entertainment and Universal Pictures.