Well-Intentioned Leap! a Frustrating Dance of Disappointment
Precocious orphan Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) has long dreamt of journeying to Paris and becoming a dancer. When the 11-year-old’s best friend, the gregarious wannabe inventor Victor (Nat Wolff), shows her a picture of the world renowned Opera Ballet School, she becomes obsessed with escaping from the orphanage in order to go there and become a student. After a furious pursuit where they barely escape the clutches of wily handyman Luteau (Mel Brooks), the pair hop a train and make their way to this fabled City of Light, and now that they’re here Félicie is all but certain she’s destined to develop into the famous ballet star she’s always fantasized of becoming.
Not so fast. After sneaking into the Opera Ballet School only to be summarily thrown out on her ear, Félicie is unexpectedly rescued by the stern if kindly maid Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen). She works for the demanding restaurateur Régine (Kate McKinnon), her own spoiled daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler) waiting on a letter from the school offering her placement as a student. By sheer happenstance, Félicie intercepts this offer letter, and sensing an opportunity she decides to impersonate the selfish girl, taking her place in a class taught by the demanding Director of the Opera (Joe Sheridan) himself. But when her masquerade is discovered, the youngster finds herself in a direct battle with the real Camille in order to stay at the school, Odette taking it upon herself to help train Félicie in the finer nuances of ballet, and in the process both learn more about how to fill their lives with love, friendship and family than they ever imagined was possible.
The French animated adventure Leap! is at turns stupendous and insufferable, the film never showing enough faith in its audience in order for the lovely little scenario of resilience and fortitude at the heart of things to ever resonate as fully or as completely as I kept hoping it would. When it takes the time to slow down, during the moments where Félicie is learning the finer nuances of ballet or connecting with Odette on a deep, delicately emotional level, much like its heroine’s aspirations this effort soars. Whenever it gets loud, throws in a random pop song, pieces of modern slang or hyperactive bits of craziness designed to placate those with short attention spans, they whole thing falls to pieces, becoming less interesting the more oddly chaotic as things become.
All of which is too bad because there’s so much about directors Éric Summer and Éric Warin’s little fable that I liked to say the motion picture as a whole disappointed me to such a staggering degree makes me more than a bit unhappy. I honestly loved this movie anytime Félicie started learning more about the ballet, all of the sequences inside the school once she becomes a student planting a smile upon my face I never thought was going to disappear. Even better where the training segments where Odette becomes the girl’s salvation, a beautiful sequence where she uses a tree branch, a bell and a small puddle of water to teach her student how to become as light on her feet as a feather harmlessly falling from the sky something special to be sure.
But the opening escape from the orphanage is insufferable, and as much as I wanted to like Victor as a character his hyperactive exuberance began to wear me out long before the film had reached its midpoint let alone by the time it entered the home stretch working towards its climax. Worse is a long, drawn out chase between Félicie and Régine as the perilously climb to the top of an unfinished Statue of Liberty, the whole scene feeling like it was lifted out of some third tier DreamWorks misfire that confused frenetic action with character development and unbelievable histrionics with subtly more than it did anything else.
It’s all fairly unbalanced, and as much as I adored a number of key segments, the obnoxious stuff is so difficult to sit through I had trouble recollecting what I enjoyed about this animated effort not long after I left the theatre and started making my way back home. While the animation is solid, and while some of the vocal performances are superb, most notably those delivered by Fanning, Sheridan and especially an unrecognizable Jepsen, the bad stuff sat so poorly with me thinking back on it all now almost makes me angry. Leap! showcases loads of potential, and no question its female-driven story of accomplishment and resilience has plenty of value. But neither of those elements is enough to overcome all of the missteps, the resulting film a substandard dance of aggravation that I’m still moderately upset about.
Film Rating: 2 (out of 4)