The turning point in "Sing 2" happens about 45 minutes in, when a porcupine croons a wistful version of U2's "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out Of."
Up until that scene, "Sing 2" has been all too much like its predecessor, a weirdly disjointed animated comedy that was sort of like if karaoke were performed by stuffed animals. A bunch of cuddly creatures, including that porcupine (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) and a koala (Matthew McConaughey), are involved in a musical competition where blandly competent singers perform versions of songs that make you wish you could hear the original performers instead. (The cast also includes Reese Witherspoon, Chelsea Peretti and singer Halsey).
In "Sing 2," McConaughey's ebullient Buster (an entertaining 180 from the actor's laid-back screen persona) is trying to put together a big concert/musical event. He needs to convince a reclusive rocker — who is also, um, a lion — to participate.
Johansson's Ash is part of the effort and her "Stuck in the Middle" breaks from the random flurry of boring covers in "Sing 2" to give us something spare and lovely. It has personality, something the performances in the movie's first half lack, and Johansson's low-key style suits not just the song but her introspective character.
The scene seems to unlock the movie and give it energy. From then on, it's a sprint to a big musical finale that splits the difference between an arena rock show and the Ziegfeld Follies.
Writer/director Garth Jennings keeps making the musical numbers bigger and bigger, including a version of space travel, and we get to hear Johansson's moody take on another U2 song, "With or Without You."
"Sing 2" also introduces a so-so new U2 number, "Your Song Saved My Life." It raises an interesting question about the comedy. Since several U2 songs are associated with Clay, the reclusive character Bono plays, is Clay actually supposed to be Bono? A lion with a frizzy mane, a leather jacket and an attitude, Clay suggests that the Irish rocker has a future in the stuffed animals biz.
**1/2 out of 4 stars
Rated: PG for rude jokes and mild peril.
Where: Area theaters.