Buster Moon (McConaughey) has been in love with theatre since he was six, which is why he's hanging on to his dilapidated theatre despite a string of flops. With the bank banging on the door and Buster owing money all over town, the shifty manager has one last idea to save his beloved building: a singing competition with a prize of $1000. The only problem is the flyers suffer a misprint and a grand prize of $100,000 encourages wannabes like housewife Rosita (Witherspoon), grumpy crooner Mike (McFarlane), shy Meena (Tori Kelly), punk rocker Ash (Johannson) and gangster son Johnny (Taron Edgerton) all vie for a place…
Oh, did I mention Buster is a koala, Rosita is a pig, Mike is a mouse, Meena an elephant, Ash a porcupine and Johnny a gorilla? No? I should have. But the thing is this story could easily have been told in live action: there's nothing koala-esque about Buster, nor are any characters defined by their respective species attributes. In fact, there's a real Max Fischer/Zero Mostel vibe about Buster, with his shifty nature, ambition and eternal optimism. This didn't have to be an animation at all… right up until the flood, that is. Flood? Yes, there's a flood.
There's a lot going on here. Buster's travails may be front and centre but Garth Jennings' (Son of Rambow, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) script likes to branch out and explore the private lives of the hopefuls. Johnny is forced to be a getaway driver for his Cockney gangster dad, who has a penchant for breaking into banks around town, Rosita does what she can to juggle her fifteen (at last count) piglets and selfish husband, Ash's self-obsessed live-in boyfriend is a drag, and Mike runs afoul of Russian bears after cheating at a card game.
Then there's sheep Eddie (John C.Reilly), the layabout grandson of theatre madam Nana (Jennifer Saunders talking, Jennifer Hudson singing), whose cash is the key to keeping the theatre alive. Among the marquee names bringing their voice talents – and there are a few here - it's actually Garth Jennings' himself that steals the show as Buster's long-suffering one-eyed lizard secretary, Miss Crawley.
It's not a musical but damn if it isn't heavy with random pop songs. The X Factor/American Idol set up allows Jennings to roll out the tunes, and he's indiscriminate with his choices – Lady Gaga, Leonard Cohen, Elton John, Sinatra, Katy Perry, Bowie, Taylor Swift, Beatles: anything goes here.