Taking a small ‘Leap!’ towards this animated picture is a no-brainer
Directed by: Eric Summer and Eric Warin
Written by: Eric Summer, Carol Noble and Laurent Zeitoun
Starring: Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler, Terrence Scammell, and Julie Khaner
“Leap!” – Felicie (Elle Fanning) lives in an orphanage, and this particular redhead dreams of becoming a ballet dancer in Paris. Hundreds of millions of teens and preteens most likely wish for the same date with destiny, but with Felicie’s rustic, coastal town of Brittany sitting just 500 kilometers from Paris, she has a better shot at reaching her goal than say, Suzie Smith from Wichita, KS, simply due to distance.
It is the 1880s, so high speed trains are not at our heroine’s disposal, but her best friend, Victor (Nat Wolff) – also an orphan, who owns a fierce determination and a quirky clumsiness - plans to help Felicie spring towards The City of Lights. Hence, Felicie takes a massive leap towards fulfilling her dreams in the scenic and sweet animated picture, “Leap!”.
Directors Eric Summer and Eric Warin wonderfully lather the big screen with bright colors and beautiful Parisian scenery which capture the glamor of France’s most prominent city. Cobblestone streets, lush open greenbelts and the Seine River set the foundation for Paris’s gorgeous, signature Haussmannian architecture and, naturally, The Eiffel Tower. Actually, in “Leap!”, builders are just beginning construction of The Eiffel Tower, and this in turn, pinpoints that the film transpires in 1887.
Actually - and this is a bit of a spoiler – The Statue of Liberty makes a few appearances in the movie, because it was built in France and presented as a gift to the United States. Not to nitpick, but the Green Lady was dedicated in New York City in 1886, so the film’s timeframes do not exactly line up. The Statue, however, is put to good use in the picture’s narrative, so this slight historical revision can be forgiven. Additionally, the scenes in “Les Miserables” – published in 1862 – depict a much darker and dirtier version of Paris, but hey, this is a positive animated film, so this modification of the past can be excused as well.
For anyone who has seen Paris, these thoughtful, sweeping shots of the city will instantly urge one to make another visit. For those who have yet to experience Paris, these moments spur a real desire to hop on Expedia and book a flight, and credit Summer, Warin and the animators for proudly featuring the metropolitan eye-candy.
As wondrous as the Parisian background is, the story turns conventional, as the young underdog needs to overcome several hurdles – both circumstantial and human – to reach her lofty goals. The main antagonists are a wealthy, Tonya Hardingish rival named Camille (Maddie Ziegler) and her mother, Regine (Julie Khaner), who could easily play Cinderella’s wicked stepmother’s twin, and they spew and spit mean-spirited, detrimental fodder and actions that warrant and generate sympathy from the audience. Plus, Felicie’s hypercritical ballet instructor, Merante (Terrence Scammell), does not exactly provide a bastion of comfort either, especially as his classes are fashioned like “American Idol”, because each day, he eliminates one ballet dancer.
Keeping us firmly planted in our theatre seats, Felicie’s likability quotient scores very high, as her awkward, Bambi-like coordination progresses towards graceful swan-status. Whether or not Summer and Warin have dance backgrounds, they focus their animated powers on delivering real drama and admiration through the girls’ various ballet balances, twirls, hops, and - of course - leaps.
As much as the dance scenes keep our attention, Felicie’s connection with Victor feels like the weakest link of the picture. Victor’s bungling, dumb boy act gets old in a hurry, and one might hope that he would simply keep his distance and find another girl to fawn over, because after all, Paris is a big city. On the flip side, Felicie’s connection with her mentor, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), garners the most feelings and warmth, and the picture’s message of following one’s dreams resonate through their individual stories and teacher/student relationship. At one point, we see Odette scrubbing the floor, but her mind wanders back to a what-could-have-been past that might emotionally prod unsuspecting tear ducks in crowded movie theatres everywhere.
Sure, “Leap!” features ballet as its main conduit, but the film’s universal themes should click with movie fans of all ages, except for some preteen boys who are deeply connected to fire trucks and bugs. The film’s creative team did attach an inventor’s streak in Victor’s personality, but it may not be enough to win over a young male audience. I am guessing a bit, as I think back to my own elementary school days. For everyone else, driving to theatre to watch this thoughtful picture is a no-brainer and definitely worth a small leap.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.