Thursday, August 24, 2017

Review: "Leap!"

Objectivity is not part of the criticism game, but I do think it’s important for critics to go into their encounter with a piece of art/entertainment without preconceived notions or opinions. And when that’s not possible, it’s best to divulge that straight off the bat so readers know where you’re coming from and factor that into their reading of the review.

To wit: I went into “Leap!” with the lowest of hopes. The previews for this French-Canadian animation production make it look like a low-rent, derivative affair aimed at young girls -- Disney TV’s “Sofia the First” with an overstuffed runtime.

Furthermore, my 4- and 6-year-old boys, who will literally watch any kind of animated fare 73 times, had to be convinced/cajoled/bribed into joining me. The latter’s main objection being that it’s about ballerina dancing and therefore too much of a “girl movie” for him and his all-male cadre.

(The preteen misogyny is strong with this one...)

I’m happy to report the movie is much better than I expected, a light enjoyable romp about chasing your dreams and such. My kids both enjoyed it, the older one with the proviso that “Leap!” is both a girl movie AND boy movie, because it also has a couple of significant Y-chromosome characters. Feel free to use that with your lad or tomboy.

Let’s not go overboard and call it a great piece of entertainment. Directed by Eric Summer and Éric Warin, from a screenplay by Summer, Laurent Zeitoun and Carol Noble, “Leap!” does have a television feel to it, with a tightly bookended narrative that you could practically write yourself after watching the first 20 minutes.

And the animation is second- to third-tier, without the smooth action and dense detail we’ve come to expect from Disney/Pixar, Laika and DreamWorks.

Still, it’s an engaging adventure with a spunky heroine, quirky sidekicks and a lush Parisian background. It even manages to make ballet (sort of) appealing.

Félicie (voice of Elle Fanning) is a 12-ish pixie living in an orphanage in the countryside outside Paris circa 1875. She spends most of her days dancing and daydreaming ways to escape to the city and join up with the Paris Opera Ballet. Mel Brooks provides the voice of Luteau, the ogreish custodian.

Her only real friend is Victor (Nat Wolff), a dizzy boy who dreams of becoming a great inventor and is clearly smitten with Félicie. The pair make their way to Paris, but soon go their separate ways with occasional check-ins. (This is her story, not theirs.)

She becomes a servant in the household of a snooty rich woman, Le Haut (Kate McKinnon), with an equally arrogant daughter around Félicie’s age, Camille (Maddie Ziegler), who is about to study at the ballet school. She passes herself off as Camille and begins to pursue her dream of becoming a ballet dancer.

Carly Rae Jepsen voices Odette, a caretaker who for some reason works at both the ballet and Le Haut households. She uses a cane and is very jaded, but also seems to know enough about ballet to give Félicie enough tips/training to make the cut. The sneering instructor, Mérante (Terrence Scammell), is searching for a young girl to play Clara in “The Nutcracker,” and every day one more dancer is tossed, “Bachelor”-style.

There’s even a bona fide Russian prince/prodigy, Rudolph (Tamir Kapelian), who’s tall and dreamy and pays Félicie plenty of attention, earning Victor’s bumbling ire.

Originally released in Canada under the title of “Ballerina” with a few changes in the voice cast, “Leap!” won’t win any awards for originality. But it easily clears the low bar of expectations I had set for it. And that’s my life-lesson.

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