Leap! is directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin. The film features the voices of Elle Fanning, Mel Brooks, Maddie Ziegler, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Nat Wolff. The film had been released a year earlier in other markets under the title “Ballerina,” with the 2017 American version replacing/dubbing over a few voice performances.
In France in the late 1800s, friends Felicie and Victor escape from their orphanage. Felicie intends to pursue her dream of becoming a dancer, whereas Victor has aspirations of becoming an inventor. Felicie strikes up a friendship with a former dancer employed as a cleaning lady, who begins training her for her desired spot. But it is not long before she finds herself in an awkward situation, under the ire of a rival dancer and her mother, and caught in the middle of a love triangle, trying to balance these things with dancing, and fulfilling her dream.
Leap! is admittedly not a film I caught during its initial theatrical run; I actually had to go to a budget theater to be able to catch it. A French-Canadian co-production (with additional dubbing for its American release), the movie has ambition, a solid voice cast, and some nice settings, but it ultimately falls victim to a clichéd, predictable narrative, and an overemphasis on cheap laughs and physical gags.
As far as the positives of the film go, the voice cast actually does quite well with the material, in particular, Elle Fanning as Felicie. You can tell that they put their heart into these performances, and even if the rest of the film falls flat, there are still a few emotional moments that the cast members at least make somewhat believable. The Parisian scenery also makes for a few interesting moments, though unfortunately, these are only major positive standouts of the film.
The biggest problem with Leap! is, simply, that the movie is too predictable and does not take any real chances, or do anything unexpected. The film is content to stay in its comfort zone with a fairly generic premise and execution. The “believe in yourself” theme is nothing new to family films, and it has been done better a million times over elsewhere. The movie finds its inspiration in everything from The Karate Kid to Rudy, but it can’t come anywhere near competing with fare like that.
The humor also falls flat in that it goes for cheap laughs including the obligatory toilet/potty humor on more than a few occasions. This physical, slapstick comedy never quite gets off the ground, and while a few scenes are funny, the movie’s seemingly-forced comedic side rarely got laughs out of this viewer.
Even after the film is basically resolved, the filmmakers didn’t know when to end the movie, and feel the need to throw in one last minute action sequence that feels “tacked on.” This drags the movie out, so even with its fairly short length of 90 minutes, it still feels like it is stretched too wide to stand on its own.
The use of modern pop songs throughout the film is a questionable decision as well. While these songs actually suit the scenes well in many cases, the problem is that they take the viewer out of the 19th century. When I am watching a film set in the past, I want to remain in the past for that time period; not be constantly reminded of the modern world.
It is tough to recommend Leap! when you consider that a studio like Pixar, and to a lesser extent, Dreamworks Animation, has produced far better films over the years, tacking similar lessons and themes with greater results. The film has a few decent moments throughout, but ultimately falls victim to clichés and attempts at cheap laughs despite a few heart-wrenching moments and a decent premise. Leap! is not likely to leave an impression on you after you’re done watching. It will make a decent weekend rental title for the little ones, but don’t rush out to see it or buy the disc.
Rating: One-and-a-half out of four stars.
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