EXCLUSIVE: On top of the previous announcement that Universal and Illumination Entertainment’s big Christmas holiday animation release Sing will have its world premiere as a Special Presentation of the Toronto Film Festival, I have learned the studio plans to turn it into an even bigger deal with live performances from Oscar and Grammy winner Jennifer Hudson and Tori Kelly (two of the film’s voice cast) immediately after the debut screening which is scheduled for 3:30 PM on Sunday, September 11 at the Princess Of Wales Theatre.

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Just exactly what songs they will sing during their mini-concert is to be determined, as the film is a wall-to-wall representation of today’s pop hits and as well as those from other eras. In fact, it features more than 85 of the most popular recording artists in history from the 1940s forward. Since this holiday film doesn’t open until December 21, the Toronto berth is a highly unusual move for this type of movie, but Universal and Illumination are clearly making a statement by busting it out so early. It seems part of the idea is to stake a claim in the Animated Feature Oscar race with hoped-for acclaim out of Toronto.

Sing_(2016_film)_poster
Universal Pictures

Illumination founder and CEO Chris Meledandri, already having a very good summer with The Secret Life Of Pets earning $675 million worldwide to date, is clearly excited about the prospects for Sing, which centers on an American Idol –style singing contest orchestrated by a showbiz impressario koala trying to save his theater. In addition to Hudson and Kelly, the film’s voice cast includes Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Seth MacFarlane, Scarlett Johansson and John C. Reilly among others.

Songwriters Hall of Fame 47th Annual Induction and Awards Gala, Show, New York, USA - 09 Jun 2016
REX/Shutterstock

“In Sing, Jennifer Hudson and Tori Kelly give voice to the film’s message of the redemptive, transformative power of music,” Meledandri said in statement to Deadline provided by the studio. “Writer-director Garth Jennings has led our team of extraordinary artists at Illumination Mac Guff in making a film that brings unique characters to life and will touch audiences of all cultures and ages this holiday season. We are thrilled to have Jennifer and Tori perform at the Toronto Film Festival.”

Every time I run into Meledandri he keeps telling me I have to see this movie, and now thanks to TIFF I will very soon. With films like Despicable Me and Minions he has been providing Universal with significant portions of their bottom line, so you can see why the studio is giving Sing this kind of unique send-off. It is a big time for animation at Universal, especially with the addition of DreamWorks Animation after Jeffrey Katzenberg’s official goodbye yesterday and this morning’s restructuring of the company under Universal’s umbrella.

Deepwater Horizon' film - 2016
REX/Shutterstock

In related news, TIFF unleashed a torrent of nine more press releases this morning unveiling its Discovery Program, Kids Programming, In Conversation series and jury selection. Among those participating in the In Conversation formats are Mark Wahlberg, whose Deepwater Horizon is a festival world premiere; Isabelle Huppert, with three films on display at the festival; and Brazilian legend Sonia Braga, whose Aquarius is a Cannes competition title now making its way to TIFF.

Among films announced for Discovery, featuring first- and second-time filmmakers, are two narrative films from American directors including Katie Says Goodbye from Wayne Roberts about a waitress and part-time prostitute who finds love with a troubled mechanic, and Rachel Lambert’s In The Radiant City (from producer Jeff Nichols and Sonny Mallhi) about a man returning home to his family in rural Kentucky where he is haunted by a murder committed by his brother 20 years earlier. Also announced was  Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle  which gained critical acclaim when it debuted as part of the Cannes Un Certain Regard competition in May. Sony Pictures Classics has picked up this stunning animated film and will release it in December.

In all, TIFF has announced 296 features and 110 shorts to unspool during the 2016 edition of the fest out of a total of 6733 submissions. It runs September 8-18.