Spotlight Columns

Buttered and Salty: Leap!

By From page A7 | August 23, 2017

LEAP!  * * 1/2
PG, 1 h 29 min, Animation/Adventure/Family 

When reviewing a movie that so clearly wasn’t produced with my demographic in mind, I look for two things: 1) Does it reach the quality of the films it is obviously imitating (Pixar) and 2) Did the kids in the audience react positively to it?

In Eric Summer and Éric Warin’s “Leap!,” an orphan girl dreams of becoming a ballerina and flees her rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes for someone else and accedes to the position of pupil at the Grand Opera House. If some of those plot points share similarities of Pixar’s 2007 “Ratatouille,” you would be correct.

Aspects of “Brave,” “Cars” and several Pixar tropes also show up. On the surface, this isn’t a criticism. Pixar is the bar which all animation companies strive to reach. My only issue with that is if you are going to blatantly take from them, make sure to copy their formula of writing great scripts and crafting wonderful characters too.

And that’s where “Leap!” falters. When we are introduced to our hero Felicie (Elle Fanning) and her bumbling best friend Victor (Dane DeHaan), they are trying to escape from an orphanage circa 1879. This would seem like a golden opportunity to really show a couple of things: Why was Felicie there in the first place? Did her parents die and that was her only refuge? What were the other kids at the orphanage like? Were the heads of the orphanage so vicious that Felicie and Victor watch the sunset every evening dreaming of riding it all the way to Paris to follow their dreams? These may seem like adult themes, but they have been done effectively in great family films such as “Bambi,” “Oliver” and “Up,” to name a few.

We don’t get the answers to these questions. After being stopped from escaping the first time, our two main character are put on kitchen duty. They have such a good time cleaning dishes and sweeping that I had to wonder if I missed out on some sort of fun orphanage summer camp when I was young.

So they attempt to escape again, this time getting away from “Luteau,” voiced by an underused Mel Brooks. Don’t trouble yourself with the fact that the motorcycle he chases them on wasn’t invented for another five years. That will only make your head hurt.

Once they arrive in Paris both characters attempt to follow their dreams. Felicie as a ballerina and Victor as a great inventor. There was a golden opportunity to teach the audience of young people what it takes to accomplish those dreams; that people will tell you that you can’t do it and you have to almost will your dream into existence. What happens to Felicie is a series of happy accidents that allow her to start living that dream without much work or sacrifice on her part. She literally steals the acceptance letter of another girl and fakes her identity to get into dance school. I’m not sure of the message there.

It isn’t even until the halfway point that she befriends a woman named Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) that can really teach her. Only then does our hero figure out that there may be some hard work involved.

If the film does one thing correctly, it’s that it shows the character making a mistake and missing an opportunity that would have allowed her to accomplish her biggest dream of dancing in “The Nutcracker” (which also wasn’t around until years after the film takes place). The mistake is entirely her fault and knocks her back a few pegs. I found that decision refreshing.

Of course, the character is saved by the goodwill of those around her who put in a position once again of reaching her dreams by accident. Not a lot of time is spent with her considering where she went wrong and training to get it right, other than a minute or two. I guess the filmmakers wanted to get us to the “dance off” that felt so out of place I had to laugh. In fairness, this was the only section of the film that the kids in the audience vocally reacted to.

This film suffers from cheap jokes, bad villains and “over explaining-syndrome.” There is a moment when the kids are escaping the orphanage that they run through a field of fireflies. It’s a gorgeous visual until the line “Whoa, fireflies!” kills the moment.

The best lines also seem to happen when characters walk off screen and their lines become muted. As Victor declares “That’s my girlfriend!” a character in the background mutters “Does she know that?” It was a good line and barely noticeable. That happened a few times in the 89-minute runtime.

I have been tough on this film, as there were so many missed opportunities for this movie to be more than the average film it was. I am still going to (tepidly) recommend it, though. There is some really nice emotion in the last 20 minutes of the movie and with a lack of good, family friendly entertainment at the cinema in the coming weeks there is a place for it.

Joshua B. Porter is a writer/director/producer. The most recent film he produced, “August Falls,” is currently available on Amazon Prime as well as other streaming services. He can be reached at @joshuabporter or [email protected]

Joshua Porter

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