Directors: Éric Summer and Éric Warin
Cast: The voices of Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Maddie Ziegler, Carly Rae Jespen, Terence Scammel, Julie Khaner, Mel Brooks, Kate McKinnon
MPAA Rating: (for some impolite humor, and action)
Running Time: 1:29
Release Date: 8/25/17
Review by Mark Dujsik | August 24, 2017
Very little thought was put into Leap!, which plays like one of those rush jobs that studios put together to cash in on some fad. The subject is ballet, which is not a fad by any stretch of the meaning of that word, obviously. At a certain point while watching this pieced-together animated movie, one begins to wonder if the dance form has gained some sudden increase in popularity with kids in either Canada or France, the countries that co-produced the movie. That might explain why it barely has a story, contains characters that neither do much nor possess much personality, and is animated with such imprecision that it appears most of the dialogue was dubbed in post-production (This is true in a few cases, but most of the vocal cast remains the same from its English-language Canadian release).
The more likely possibility is that the movie is just another of those quickly produced animated movies that tries to take advantage of the fact that animated movies can make some easy money. The kids of the world might not be riding some heretofore unknown ballet craze, but they'll likely have some interest at least in an animated movie about an orphaned girl following her dreams of becoming a dancer to Paris.
In case that seems too "girly" of a thing, the screenplay by Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun, and co-director Éric Summer includes a boy who likes to invent things. If such gender stereotypes sound a bit sexist, I must emphasize here that I'm only reporting what's in the movie at this point. It's the filmmakers who appear to have calculated how much of the "girly" stuff is too much before the boys lose interest (This idea is doubled-down upon in the U.S. release, which changes the already generic original title Ballerina to its new, more generic, and completely non-specific one).
This means that an entire subplot in the movie is essentially useless, but hey, what does that matter when there's an entire demographic that the filmmakers figure won't have any interest in an art that has been around in one form or another for six centuries? It's unlikely that the movie would have been any better without the story's male counterpart, but at least the narrative might have had a bit more focus.
The girl is Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning), an orphan living in France in the late 19th century. Since she was a baby, Felicie has been raised in an orphanage in Brittany. The boy is Victor (voice of Nat Wolff), another orphan there. The two want to escape and seek out their respective dreams in Paris. They do one night, with the help of Victor's latest—and, apparently, only—invention: a pair of wings inspired by a chicken (Victor tests Felicie's protestation that chickens can't fly by tossing the fowl off the roof).
In Paris, Felicie finds the ballet school at the Paris Opera and is enthralled by a professional ballerina's rehearsal. After meeting and helping Odette (voice of Carly Rae Jespen), who does cleaning for a wealthy family in the city, Felicie steals the identity of the family's snobbish daughter Camille (voice of Maddie Ziegler) in order to become a student of the dance academy.
The plot involves Felicie's day-by-day auditions to appear in a production of The Nutcracker, choreographed by the academy's ballet instructor Mérante (voice of Terence Scammel). The teacher cuts a young dancer each day, and Felicie learns proper technique from Odette, who was a major ballet dancer until an unspecified accident.
What's Victor doing this whole time? Well, to be frank, he's not doing anything, except working off-screen for Gustave Eiffel, who's building the tower that shares his name, and waiting in the wings for the moments when he can be an awkward romantic interest and save the day during the story's discordantly threatening climax (The villain here knocks Victor over the head with a wrench and goes after Felicie with a sledgehammer). It's strange that the filmmakers don't hide the fact that Victor is here simply so the movie can appeal to a certain section of the audience. It's even stranger that they make him the ultimate hero in a story that has nothing to do with him.
There's not much else to say, except that the story is formulaic, the dancing is unimpressively animated, and the pop song-infused soundtrack runs counter to the dance form the movie is supposedly celebrating. Basically, Leap! is routine and dull.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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