Kernel Rating (out of 5): (3.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 89 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 7+. This animated film about an orphan girl dreaming of being a ballerina in Paris features some juvenile bathroom humor (mostly flatulence, including some gas that is lit on fire upon exit); some cruel bullying in the form of hurtful names and insults; a lightly romantic triangle between the tween/teen characters that results in one fight between the two male participants; a romantic kiss on the cheek; and some lightly scary stuff involving high heights and threats by adults against children.
One of the few animated films this summer aimed squarely at female audiences, ‘Leap!’ is cute and heartfelt, even if the story itself is fairly typical. Familiar themes of trying your best and persevering in the face of adversity abound.
By Roxana Hadadi
Animated film “Leap!” already came out internationally under the name of “Ballerina”—the name was changed for its American release—and the domestic choice is a better one. This is a film with undeniable exuberance and kinetic energy, and “Leap!” captures that effectively. Squarely aimed at female audiences, “Leap!” is a solid-if-formulaic family choice in these final summer weeks.
Set in the 1880s in rural Brittany, France, before moving to Paris, “Leap!” focuses on 11-year-old orphan Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning, of “The Boxtrolls”), whose only worldly possession is a music box with a rotating ballerina inside. She can’t fully remember the mother who left her at the orphanage, but she cherishes the music box and her friendship with fellow orphan Victor (voiced by Nat Wolff, of “The Intern”). She dreams of being a dancer (and is prone to breaking out into animated jigs while doing dishes) while Victor aspires to being an inventor (getting his practice with fixing Félicie’s much-loved music box), and they’ve tried to escape the orphanage dozens of times—and finally, one night, they do, hitching a ride on a train into the city.
When they arrive, they make a bet with each other: Who will fulfill their goals first? And so as Victor bags a job with Gustave Eiffel, just starting work on his famous Tower, Félicie makes her way to the Paris Opera Ballet, where she is begrudgingly befriended by cleaning woman Odette (voiced by pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen) and makes instant enemies in Odette’s boss, the wealthy and cruel Madame Régine (voiced by Kate McKinnon, of “Ghostbusters”), and her equally repugnant daughter Camille (voiced by Maddie Ziegler), who immediately calls Félicie a “little rat” before smashing her music box.
Camille is certain that she’ll land an audition with the extremely competitive Ballet, but when her invitation arrives in the mail, Félicie steals it, assuming her identity. And with the help of Odette, Félicie starts training on her own, hoping to secure a role in the Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker. But when complicating factors arise—ignorant of Victor’s feelings for her, Félicie starts gushing over a male dancer at the ballet; Madame Régine notices the bond between Odette and Félicie and gets suspicious—Félicie’s dreams start to unravel.
“Leap!” follows the format of so many other children’s movies, in which the protagonist has to learn to work hard and harness their own inner uniqueness, but it’s refreshing to see that journey in a female character who isn’t ending up as a princess. (The same goes for the Cruz character in “Cars 3.”) And while the bullying storyline and romantic drama are both a little intense for younger viewers, Fanning is a solid voice actress, and her expressive portrayal effectively sells both her shock at Camille’s treatment and her trust in Victor’s friendship.
Visually, the movie has the same type of look as other computer-generated animation, with a certain stiffness to how some characters move (Félicie running looks particularly strange, with her upper and lower body not seeming to work together). But the dancing and ballet scenes have a nice flow and rhythm, and 19th century Paris has a sophisticated design (especially the first few levels of the Eiffel Tower, illuminated by candles).
“Leap!” doesn’t really reinvent anything, but it is a well-done children’s film that fulfills all the current requirements of the genre: up-and-coming actress in the lead role, a couple of pop songs from stars like Demi Lovato on the soundtrack, a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps narrative. It all feels a little familiar, but nevertheless enjoyably so.
Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.