It’s not uncommon for films to see different opinions come to rise when they are adjusted for an audience other than their original target, but in the case of the latest animated film to hit theaters “Leap!” the issues are not only numerous, what critics originally called a pretty decent animated picture overseas is an absolute mess when adjusted for American audiences and plays out as one of the most uneven experiences this reviewer has seen at the theater all year.
“Leap!”, also known as “Ballerina” outside the United States, follows aspiring ballerina Félicie, played by Elle Fanning, as she escapes her orphanage with her best friend Victor, played by Nat Wolff in the American version, with big dreams of becoming a student at the Paris Opera Ballet. While Victor makes progress in his aspirations as an inventor, Félicie begins working with a caretaker named Odette, played by Carly Rae Jepsen, and enters the prestigious dance school assuming the named of the daughter of Odette’s employer. Odette becomes a teacher to Félicie as she embarks on a growing experience that teaches her about dedication, determination, and true love especially on route to one’s dream being realized.
Despite promise in its premise alone, “Leap!” is nothing more than a by the books average animated feature. There’s a lot wrong with this movie that made a promising premise and story play out more like an idea that has yet to be fully realized by its writers. Despite some passable voice performances by its main cast, there really isn’t much about “Leap!” to brag about, meaning this is going to be a pretty brutal review so proceed at your own risk.
First off “Leap!” is not the most beautifully animated film in the world. While there are some colorful details presented in the final product, for the most part the film is dark and plain with nothing to really write home about in terms of set design, character design, or pretty much any aspect of the presentation at all. It doesn’t even create an intriguing look for Paris, which is a beautiful city with a lot to work with even in the pre-Eiffel Tower era that film is set in. But that’s not even the worst part of this movie. Please read on…
As I said before “Leap!” feels like a genuinely good idea that was rushed to the floor for production, and it plays out exactly that way with chopping presentation, rushed montages, and very little attention to story making its 89 minute run time feel too condensed. Doing my research I didn’t see any major changes from its oversees version to the American version other than a few cast members which means this final product of pieced together scenes and storylines that all feel disjointed and unorganized gained praise outside the United States and that blows my mind. It’s just not good, at all. It’s unpleasant to say the least. The film feels rushed, and it leaves you very little time, if any, to truly invest in what could have been a pretty deep story about self-discovery and following dreams. There’s a lot of flash and no real flare to back it up.
Then there is the voiceovers of course and in many places the voice cast doesn’t even match up with the characters they portray. Now granted in many cases this is possibly due to recastings for the American version, which included Nat Wolff, Kate McKinnon, and Mel Brooks joining the project. Before you jump to conclusions, it should also be mentioned the film was in American oversees and you can tell by the words that DO match up to the mouth movements. Even then we get back to a major problem with this film overall, which is a horrid lack of attention to detail. There seems to have been no truly committed attempt to line the actors voices with the lip movements on screen and even Elle Fanning fails to keep in line with her own character some of the time despite her dialogue being part of both the American and international product. This poor quality litters the film in everything from editing to story and cinematography. It’s just a mess, an absolute unforgivable mess of a product if I do say so myself. To top things off “Leap!”, in America at least, utilizes a wide array of film-specific pop songs from current stars with just enough pep to kind of drive home the film’s attempted inspirational message. There’s actually probably a full 15 minutes or so of music in this film and while this could have been right at home in a children’s film it’s obviously a forced attempt to add some substance to a story lacking any sort of memorability or significance without it.
The biggest sin of all though is that “Leap!” is just plain boring. I’ve said it a few times already that this film had the potential to bring a pretty interesting story to life, but the filmmakers do nothing interesting at all with that concept choosing instead to lean on tired clichés, love triangles, and the simplest of approaches to create an attempt at an inspiring story that never reaches any sort of potential at all. It’s really hard to find anything worth defending in “Leap!” and it’s too bad too. This film could very well have been a sleeper animated feature in terms of quality that could have given the bigger studios a run for their money and while it already made back its budget as of this review I personally fail to find anything enjoyable about this bland and anticlimactic adventure.
The irony here is that “Leap!” presents a motto, “you’ll never learn what it’s like to fly until you leap!” or something along those lines. For a film with such a powerful one-liner driving its general message it never really leaps off the ground itself, sticking to the safe havens of clichés and the simplest forms of cinematic storytelling offering nothing new, despite it’s promising premise. “Leap!” was a disappointment on every level for me and I actually went in wanting to enjoy it having heard such good things about it from its overseas market. Whether it’s due to a different perspective on film internationally or a poor attempt at regionalizing it to the United States, whatever quality others saw did not translate in American theaters and what we got instead was a disorganized mess of an animated film that, to put it bluntly as both a reviewer and a disappointed viewer, is a gigantic waste of time.