Leap! is a bright and occasionally charming animated film that does not quite reach the heights its title suggests, but also does not fall flat on its face.
As the film opens, Felicie (Elle Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff) are friends living in a restrictive orphanage in Brittany, France in the 1880s. Felicie dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, while Victor fancies himself an inventor. Eventually, one of their many escape schemes works and they flee to Paris together. There, Felicie tries to get into the school at the Paris Opera Ballet while Victor gets a job working for engineer Gustave Eiffel. The film is really only about Felicie’s story. Victor mainly pops up from time to time as comic relief and a reminder to Felicie of where she comes from.
Leap! (84 minutes minus the end credits, so it does not overstay its welcome) has pretty good (but not great) animation and the three main characters (Felicie, Victor and Odette, the maid who takes care of Felicie when she gets to Paris (voiced by singer Carly Rae Jepsen) are quite likable. They are easy to root for which is most definitely a benefit when you are dealing with a kids film (which are pretty much always destined to end happily). The two things that hold the movie back are the extremely obvious direction of the story and, even more egregiously, the writing of two key supporting characters.
The offending characters are Camille (Maddie Ziegler), Felicie’s rival at the ballet school, and her mother, Madame Le Haut (Saturday Night Live cast member Kate McKinnon). Camille is a run of the mill snobby brat antagonist, but her mother is a real piece of work. At first she appears to be an arrogant, stage mother aristocrat. But in the film’s second half she becomes psychotic as she vindictively tries to destroy Felicie’s dreams. Overall, especially considering the protagonist’s unfortunate circumstances, Leap! is a gentle film. The villainous Madame Le Haut does not seem like she belongs in this movie. The film is really about Felicie’s quest to follow her dreams, but this subplot (as well as an equally unnecessary one involving fellow dancer Rudy, a potential suitor for Felicie) sidetracks the story every time I started to get invested in it.
The rest of the supporting voice cast do their jobs well enough. A standout is legendary comedian, writer, director and actor Mel Brooks who is good as usual in a small role as Luteau, an employee at the orphanage. Brooks certainly helps make this character memorable despite his somewhat brief screen time and rather obvious (and kind of pointless) role in the story.
Leap! is not great animation or even a great family film. It is pretty much destined to be forgotten among all the big films of this summer. However, it is pleasant, easy to watch, and the plucky heroine is easy to root for (even my 7-year old nephew, who was not that interested in Leap! because “it looks like a girl’s movie,” liked it). That is definitely more than I can say for the last big animated release, the brainless Emoji Movie. More of a focus on Felicie’s personal journey and less on the supporting characters and their distracting subplots could have earned the film a stronger recommendation. But, as is, it is enjoyable enough for a mild recommendation.
3¼ out of 5
Elle Fanning as Felicie
Nat Wolff as Victor
Carly Rae Jepsen as Odette
Maddie Ziegler as Camille
Kate McKinnon as Madame Le Haut
Mel Brooks as Luteau
Directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin
Screenplay by Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun and Éric Summer