This December, Matthew McConaughey has two movies coming out within four days, and both pivot on a conniving salesman who, as he puts it, “wills his way into pulling off what he pulls off.” But where his character in the R-rated Gold is a money-hungry gold prospector, the other hustler is a smidge more innocuous: an animated koala with a crisp red bow tie. “I don’t think they’ll compete with each other,” he jokes.
In Sing, an animated musical due Dec. 21 from the studio responsible for the Minions empire, McConaughey’s Buster Moon is a businessman who makes a last-ditch effort to save his sinking theater by putting on an amateur singing competition. Opposable thumbs or not, the menagerie of competitors has problems that mirror our own: Ash, the punk-rock porcupine (Scarlett Johansson), has a boor of a boyfriend; Rosita the pig (Reese Witherspoon) is mom to 25; and Johnny the gorilla (Taron Egerton) dreams of trading a life of crime for stardom.
McConaughey had been seeking voice work for years when Buster came his way. To prep, he studied his three kids’ comedic tastes, he says, “introducing them to animated films, hearing them laugh and going back and looking at what they thought was funny.” He also takes his singing from shower to screen, crooning Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” on a soundtrack that ranges from Sinatra to Gaga. In a season full of serious fare, Sing is about surrendering to silliness even when all else seems to demand otherwise. “When is that ever out of style?” McConaughey asks.
New takes on some very old myths
Auli’i Cravalho voices Disney’s first Polynesian princess in an animated tale set thousands of years ago. With the help of a tattooed demigod named Maui (Dwayne Johnson) drawn from pan-Pacific mythology, Moana sets sail from her island home to navigate the ocean and return a lost gem to where it belongs–discovering, along the way, her true identity.
Mourning the death of his young daughter, Will Smith’s advertising executive withdraws from the responsibilities of daily life, leaving his colleagues (Kate Winslet, Edward Norton and Michael Peña) in a professional bind. He begins writing philosophical letters addressed to intangible concepts, and starts to believe he’s going crazy when they are answered, in the flesh, by Love (Keira Knightley), Time (Jacob Latimore) and Death (Helen Mirren).
THE SPACE BETWEEN US
In this sci-fi teenage romance, the first human born on Mars–after his astronaut mother discovers she is pregnant while on a voyage to colonize the Red Planet–is all grown up and heading to Earth for the first time. Asa Butterfield plays the biplanetary teen as he explores the old planet and embarks on a romantic adventure, despite the risks Earth’s environment poses to his unacclimated body.
A MONSTER CALLS
From Spanish director J.A. Bayona comes this fantastical tale of a boy (British newcomer Lewis MacDougall) who befriends an ancient, anthropomorphic tree that helps him cope with his mother (Felicity Jones), who suffers from a terminal illness. Adapted from the novel by Siobhan Dowd, who was terminally ill herself when she wrote it, the film explores the healing power of courageously confronting one’s most difficult emotions.
This appears in the November 28, 2016 issue of TIME.