I know the Weinstein’s fingerprints when I see them!
Leap! is set in France during the 1880s and follows two orphans, Félicie and Victor. Both of them have huge dreams: Félicie wants to become a ballerina and Victor wants to be an inventor. Upon escaping their orphanage, they arrive in the beautiful city of Paris, but are separated almost immediately. After a tiresome night wandering the streets, Félicie happens upon the Paris Opera Ballet house, where she meets Odette, a former dancer who now serves as the house cleaner for the uptight and spiteful Régine Le Haut. Odette reluctantly takes Félicie in in order to keep Le Haut from sending her back to the orphanage.
Félicie also meets Le Haut’s daughter, Camille, who Le Haut pressures into becoming a ballerina. Camille immediately acts rude to Félicie, even going so far as to break Félicie’s most prized possession, a music box left to her by her now-deceased mother. Félicie learns that Camille has been accepted into an exclusive ballerina class, where the highest-performing dancer gets to perform in a staging of the Nutcracker. Both as an act of revenge and as an opportunity to follow her dream, Félicie assumes Camille’s identity and joins the class. Unsurprisingly, she shows a lack of skills on the first day, and is in danger of being expelled from the class. Odette, however, decides to train Félicie to become a better dancer. With hard work and a little love, Félicie finally has the chance to achieve her dream. In the meantime, Victor takes up a job at an inventor’s workshop, helping him realize his dream as well.
Leap! has already been released in Europe under its original title, Ballerina. Now it is finally receiving an American distribution under the Weinstein Company. If you are familiar with the Weinsteins, they like to make their own personal additions, mostly in the English dubbing, to films they choose to distribute. Some of their previous examples include The Magic Roundabout (retitled Doogal in the US), The Thief and the Cobbler, and Roberto Benigni’s Pinocchio. (I had the unfortunate honor of watching all three of them, and they are pretty horrible.) While Leap! is not as bad as the films previously mentioned, it still has significant flaws.
How different the film is from the original European version, I do not know personally, but you can tell that this film was tinkered with, because most of the jokes sound like they were added at the last minute. Not only are these jokes unfunny and bottom-of-the-barrel, but they do not fit the film’s setting. One memorable exchange is when Victor is testing out a pair of flying wings he invented, claiming “One day, everyone will travel like this,” which is followed by Felicie stating “Well I hope they come with barf bags.” Now, I could be wrong, but I don’t think people walked around casually using the phrase “barf bags” in the 1880s. Sure, superior family films like Aladdin used modern day references, but while Aladdin was a fantasy, Leap! is relatively grounded in reality. Also, Aladdin had so much to offer, that the modern-day humor didn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
In addition to the humor, the film also contains a bundle of pop songs to accompany montages, and there are too many here. Understandably, you want to see Félicie grow as a character, and to the film’s credit, we do see her evolve as a person, but only one montage was needed for that. The film also should have had more scenes of dancing itself, given that dance is one of the film’s major themes, and the pop songs that accompany these scenes do not fit. There is one particular moment where Félicie and Camille have a dance-off, alone on stage. Admittedly, it starts off humorous, but suddenly a pop song starts playing, completely changing the mood of the scene.
Elle Fanning provides the voice of Félicie, and one may find irony in this casting decision, given that the Nutcracker is a plot point in this film, and Fanning was in the dreadful film, The Nutcracker in 3D seven years ago. Although she gives a good performance here, she is at the point where she sounds too old for a part like this. This is especially evident in the scenes she shares with Carly Rae Jepsen, who voices Odette, and who, by contrast, sounds too young. I can’t help but feel the voice roles should have been switched.
Victor is voiced by Nat Wolff, who replaced the original voice actor in the European version, Dane DeHaan. It’s not clear why the Weinsteins replaced Dehaan, seeing as he is a relatively big name in Hollywood, and Wolff was not exactly the best choice. He plays the role too over-the top, constantly raising his voice where he shouldn’t, and, like Fanning, sounds too old. In addition, his voice barely syncs with Victor’s lips. The one voice actor who does a fantastic job, surprisingly, is Maddie Ziegler as Camille. Ziegler is not even an actress, and, ironically, is known for being on the reality show, Dance Moms. Also, Kate McKinnon voices three different roles in this film, and I didn’t realize that until the end credits. She is truly a (ahem) tour de force!
Although I stand by my previously stated criticisms, I will admit that the film does have its merits. The animation, while not quite on par with Pixar or DreamWorks, is gorgeous, especially in the way the city of Paris is represented. When Victor and Félicie first arrive in Paris, the camera pulls back, revealing a wide shot of Paris, which almost brings back memories of the opening shot of Hugo—but in reverse. The real standout sequence is the moment where Félicie comes across the ballet house. There are no jokes or dialogue in this entire sequence, and the feelings of the character are allowed to be told through the animation. It is beautiful. The use of camera angles, lighting, and colors creates wonderful atmosphere, brought to life even more by Klaus Badelt’s musical score, which is awe-inspiring. It makes you wonder why the pop songs were thought to be necessary. Moments like these show that this could have been a more sophisticated film if not left in the Weinstein’s hands.
Leap! is a film that I am sure children will enjoy, but adults will have little to get invested in. The film boasts some gorgeous visuals, camerawork, and choreography in the animation, but the predictable plot, surface-level humor, uneven voice acting, overuse of pop songs, and a rather ridiculous climax deflate the impact the film could have had. It does, however, have a nice and upbeat message about following your dreams, no matter how big, and using your passion to succeed. On a personal note, the kids at my screening, as well as some parents, were enthusiastic with how much they liked the film, so I guess I’m just a curmudgeon.
The film hits theaters this Friday.