Film Review: Leap!

Lively animation bolsters this follow-your-dreams fantasy set in 19th-century Paris.
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From chase scenes that would make a young Indiana Jones pant, to a dance-off sure to convince many an impressionable viewer that ballet is now his or her passion, too (at least until the practice kicks in), the animation in Leap! is great fun. Its story, about an orphan girl who tries to pursue her dreams in Paris, is familiar feel-good fare. If Leap! is not as clever as many of the Pixar films—the inevitable benchmark against which animated movies must be measured these days—and if its sunniness might dim its appeal for some discerning older viewers, the film is lively enough, and its visuals engaging enough, to entertain its young audience.

Felicie (the voice of Elle Fanning) is a spirited, motor-mouthed orphan living in an incongruously beautiful orphanage whose castle-like façade belies the drudgery of dish washing that occurs within. At her side among the mountains of dirty cutlery is awkward, scruffy Victor (the perfectly matched voice of Nat Wolff), a wannabe inventor and not-so-secret admirer of Felicie’s. The two friends escape to Paris, where Victor promptly suffers from a mild bout of clumsiness that leaves them separated for a night. On her own, Felicie finds her way to the city opera house, where she decides she wants to dance just like the prima ballerina she sees practicing. In short order she’s taken for a thief, then rescued by a mysteriously melancholy “cleaner” with a limp, Odette (the voice of singer Carly Rae Jepsen). Luck and some duplicitousness soon help Felicie enroll in a ballet class at the opera. But, while Odette trains her, Felicie must contend with the machinations of a sinister stage mom (the voice of Kate McKinnon) and her own immaturity before she can realize her dream.

Although a character name like “Odette” in a tale about ballerinas might lead to some speculation about the story’s origins, Leap! is an original idea from French producers and writers Laurent Zeitoun (The Intouchables) and Eric Summer (Carol Noble also worked on the screenplay). Its exhortation to “follow your dreams” at all costs is a staple of children’s-movie morality, but Leap!—taking its cues from movies like The Karate Kid and Rocky, according to its producers—also champions the importance of hard work. Felicie even briefly suffers for believing her “uniqueness” alone will see her through (though the lies she tells to obtain what she wants go largely unpunished, the rather suspect excuse seeming to be that her dissembling only hurt those who were nasty anyway).

But even when dangers lurk or disappointments dishearten, the sun never fully sets on Felicie’s world. Leap! is bright and buoyant, with an appropriately Carly Rae Jepsen-sounding soundtrack and comedy that works better in the visuals than in the writing. If it isn’t destined for the pantheon of children’s classics, its shortcomings might be the result of a strength that is also its weakness: that sunniness, which never convincingly, and therefore movingly, dims. The animation is charming and the climax rousing, but some older members of the audience might feel a pang of longing for the terrors of Jim Henson or early Tim Burton or, more relevantly, for the pathos of Up. Leap! is sparkly; it’s just not quite luminous.

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