For about an hour, I had such a Faith of “Leap!”
I was thoroughly enchanted by this girl-power animated film about a French orphan in the 1880s who dreams of becoming a star ballerina. Loved the vibrant colors, loved the sweet and inspirational story, loved the characters, loved the voice-work from the ensemble cast.
And then we got a weird and out-of-place and slightly disturbing extended sequence in which an adult character tries to murder a child character.
Literally. She literally tries to kill her.
It’s one thing when a wicked witch or a big bad wolf or some other fairy tale villain tries to eliminate a child protagonist. It’s quite another when an adult in the “real world,” so to speak, goes off on a mad rampage and chases a kid around Paris with the express intent of knocking her off.
Eliminate that sequence, and “Leap!” would have been one of my favorite animated films of recent years. Even with that tone-deaf stumble, overall it’s a lovely and refreshingly breezy adventure with an adorably plucky lead, an infectious soundtrack and arresting visuals.
Elle Fanning does wonderful voice work as 11-year-old Felicie, who lives in an orphanage in the province of Brittany that looks like an idyllic mansion on the outside but is cold and forbidding on the inside. (All the orphans sleep side by side on cots in a cavernous hall.)
Along with her borderline annoyingly cheerful best friend Victor (Nat Wolff), an aspiring inventor, Felicie is forever trying to escape the orphanage — only to be caught every time by the motorcycle-driving caretaker Luteau (a fantastically funny Mel Brooks).*
Eventually, though, Felicie and Victor do make it to Paris. The housemaid Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), a former dancer with a pronounced limp from the injury that ended her career, takes in Felicie and encourages her to pursue her dreams. Meanwhile, Victor gets a job in the workshop of none other than the great Gustave Eiffel. Way to assimilate in the big city, 11-year-old orphan kids!
Felicie finds herself in competition with the wealthy and quite bratty Camille (Maddie Ziegler), who has been in training for the Paris Opera Ballet since she was old enough to walk. Camille’s mother (Kate McKinnon) is a horrific monster — a demanding and obsessive stage mom whose moods range from angry to seething to bitter. (Little wonder her daughter is so brittle, nasty and insecure.)
At first the company’s uncompromising director, Merante (Terrence Scammell), comes across as a similarly intimidating and callous character — but the more we get to know Merante, the more we like him. Other than Felicie, he was my favorite character in the film.
“Leap!” follows a predictable underdog-story pattern, with Felicie scoring small triumphs, suffering major setbacks, undergoing a crisis of character, and eventually — well, you know the rest. The anachronistic pop songs actually work quite nicely with the scenes of classical dancing, and will most likely help hold the attention of the little ones.
Also, points for any film that finds voice roles for Carly Rae Jepsen and Mel Brooks.
The Weinstein Co. presents a film directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin and written by Summer, Carol Noble and Laurent Zietoun. Rated PG (for some impolite humor, and action). Running time: 89 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.
* The timeline in “Leap” is, to put it charitably, messed up. In the Paris scenes, two iconic structures are under construction: the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
Work on the Eiffel Tower commenced in January of 1887. It’s close to completion in the film, so it’s a safe bet to say the story takes place in 1888.
Construction on the Statue of Liberty started in 1875. By the late 1880s, Lady Liberty was fully realized and was stationed in New York Harbor.
I’m also fairly certain jean shorts and leg warmers weren’t actual fashion choices of the time.
Also, the Mel Brooks character of Luteau is zipping around on a motorcycle a few years before motorized bikes were commercially available. What a pioneer!