After an underwhelming summer for children’s entertainment my interest in Leap! was more than a little piqued. The film, a French/Canadian production, was released overseas late last year under the title Ballerina, with its subsequent US release being continually pushed back by the Weinstein Company. Such activity usually does not bode well for a film, and after seeing Leap! (a title change to entice male viewers perhaps?), its noticeable flaws are enough to justify the hesitancy in its release. Despite those flaws, there is an entertaining enough narrative for families to enjoy away from the summer heat.
Set in late 19th century France, Leap! follows Felicie (Elle Fanning) a young orphan who dreams of being a ballerina and her best friend Victor (Nat Wolff) an aspiring inventor. The two escape their dreary lives at an orphanage in Brittany and head for the bustling streets of Paris. The film diverges a bit here, with Felicie meeting her mentor Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen, who also has a catchy song in the film) and following her dream of performing at the Paris Opera Ballet. Victor has his own adventure meeting up with another entrepreneurial-minded fellow and perfecting his creations while pining after Felicie. Lessons are learned, the mean girl Camille (voiced by dancer and Sia stand-in Maddie Ziegler) is exposed, and Victor and Felicie realize their greatest potential. No surprises here.
The film’s greatest weakness is its lack of polish overall, but mainly in the voice performances and the animation. Fanning has always been an actress I enjoy watching but I found her ill suited for this role. In essence, there is an awkwardness about the film that can be traced from the clunkiness of the script, through the voice performances, and to the direction of the voice actors themselves. Some of this is saved by utilizing quick cuts in many of the scenes in the film, but that in and of itself ends up being a disservice. The animation style captures the time period of the film well enough, finding a middle ground between the traditional look and feel of Disney with the computer-animated gusto of Dreamworks, but I found it noticeably second-rate to the likes of Pixar and Laika. It’s most apparent in the characters facial expressions which reminded me more of what we tend to see in video games than film. This is probably an unfair comparison but after watching Inside Out, it’s hard to view Leap! and not see wooden faces everywhere.
One thing I will say about Leap! in its favor, because it still needs to be pointed out, is its portrayal of a female lead. This is Felicie’s story, as we only really get flashback montages to fill in the gaps of Victor’s time settling in Paris. It’s her dream we are watching become a reality and that is something worth noting, as is Felicie’s relationship with her mentor Odette.
Despite its title, Leap! doesn’t reach the heights of the best in animation today but it’s a solid choice for families in need of a late summer distraction.
Leap! opens today in Philly area theaters.
Author: Jill Malcolm
Jill is happiest attending midnight screenings with other crazy film fans at her local theater. Her other passions include reading, traveling to faraway places, cat videos, pugs, and jalapeño peppers. She is co-founder of the blog Filmhash.