Review: Leap! will dance its way into your heart.
I will be the first to admit that I had little desire to see Leap! upon entering the theater this past weekend. The film’s marketing campaign has been barely non-existent and the few advertisements that I have seen do very little to sell the film to children, let along to the parents who take their children to see movies. Leap! proves yet again that the Weinstein Company doesn’t know how to push and promote their films. With a release during the last weekend in August and no marketing push at all, I would be shocked if Leap! even ends up in the latter half of the top 10 at the box office during its opening weekend.
Set in 1879, Leap! follows a young orphan named Félicie Milliner (Elle Fanning) with big dreams of becoming a world-renowned ballerina dancer. At the orphanage, Félicie isn’t exactly the most popular girl but she does have a great friendship with Victor (Nat Wolff), a young inventor, who pushes Félicie to follow her dreams. Victor convinces Félicie to run away and head to Paris where they can both pursue their passions. Once in Paris, Félicie and Victor get separated which leads to Félicie pretending to be someone else in order to prove her worth and live out her dream.
Despite the piss-poor marketing efforts by The Weinstein Company, I took a chance on Leap! and I am glad that I did. With animated films like the Nut Job 2 and The Emoji Movie, Leap! is a much-needed breath of fresh air when being compared to those two films. In fact, I would argue that while Leap! does tell a familiar story, it does a great job at creating likable characters that audiences will connect with and root for. It is an underdog story but one with a young female protagonist that isn’t afraid to go after what she wants and strives to achieve her dream.
While the story is predictable and formulaic, it is still a pretty inspirational tale and one with a great message for young girls. While there are some male characters like Victor, the majority of the film is centered on Félicie overcoming obstacles on her own and proving herself to those around her. There is a relationship between Félicie and her trainer Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) that is very similar to that of Rocky and Mickey but seeing two female characters paired like this isn’t very common especially in family films.
Félicie’s backstory about how she became an orphan doesn’t take up too much of the runtime but it is touched upon and adds some additional depth to her story. By addressing Félicie’s origins, I felt it gave the audience more of a reason to care about her journey and motivating to root for her to succeed. Audiences know going into a film like this that the odds are always stacked against the underdog but by the writers giving this character, an emotional backstory added another element to the story.
Leap! was released in several other countries back in 2016 but for some reason was not released here in the USA until this year. The film was originally titled Ballerina and some of the voice cast has been changed for the USA release. The voice cast changes are a bit odd, especially with Dane Dehaan being replaced by Nat Wolff as the voice of Victor. I do think some of the changes were made to appeal to the US demographic. I am very interested in seeing the original cut because while watching the film, I felt like I could clearly tell where things such as lines of dialogue were changed to appeal to the American audience.
The pacing of Leap! is a bit of a problem. The story setup is rather dull and it took a while before I found myself invested in the story. The first 30-minutes is where the problem lies as I found myself being more interested in what was going on once Victor and Félicie get separated upon their arrival in Paris. I think this says a lot about the passion that writers Laurent Zeitoun, Carol Noble, and Eric Summer had about telling a story with a great focus on a young girl’s journey rather than a young boy.
For someone that has no interest in and knows nothing about dance, I found the whole dancing training sequences to be some of the most interesting and entertaining aspects of the film. The training sequences even in an animated film came across as incredibly elaborate and planned out. You can tell that someone involved with the project knew about dance and wanted that element of the plot to be incredibly authentic. I would also argue that while the visuals, for the most part, felt rather dated, the scenes with a focus on dance were rather vibrant and visually engaging.
All in all, Leap! is an inspirational female underdog story that deserves an audience. While the film isn’t exactly groundbreaking, the voice cast is great and the story is entertaining and emotional. After a fairly weak summer of family films, Leap! is a solid animated film that will dance its way into the hearts of children and adults who see the film.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s rating for Leap! is a 7 out of 10.