Leap! is coming of age story with its head in the clouds but it’s feet planted firmly on the ground. It boast a cast of voice-over veterans and newcomers who brought this cast of characters vibrantly to life and a story that takes more than one trope, shakes it up with more than bit of realism.
Félicie (Elle Fanning) is an intrepid 11-year-old with dancing feet and spirit. Determined to follow her dream of becoming a dancer Félicie and her best friend Victor (Nat Wolff) – who dreams of becoming a famous inventor – refuses to accept the limitations of life in the orphanage and run away to seek their fortune.
Félicie is so focused on making her dream a reality that she makes some seriously questionable decisions and is at times (too many times) not a very good friend. Victor is more than a little in love with his best friend but never does anything to cramp her style; even if that means calling her on her selfishness for trying to escape the orphanage without him. He instead, comes up with a (hilariously terrible) plan to get them both to Paris.
Victor isn’t just here for laughs, he eventually finds his way into the employ of engineering genius Gustave Eiffel. His part of the expands the landscape of the story giving glimpses of the beautiful animation bringing Champ de Mars and other parts of Paris to vivid life as the film’s backdrop. With more than a touch of the comedic, his sojourn through the city saves Leap! from drifting into the unrealistic and uninspired. While he never burdens Félicie with his problems – even when life hands him nothing but trials – his first night in Paris is related in amusing (but telling) flashbacks. I laughed and felt terrible all at the same time. He’s a silent cautionary tale against running away from home that will stick with kids even as they giggle about his misadventures. Despite knowing his tendency for exaggeration, Félicie chooses not to question him closely about how he’s getting along so she can keep worrying about her own desires. Victor is more than a little passive in demanding she see him. The writers and animators kept in mind any romantic overtones involve young children and kept things appropriate without gutting the moments of true feeling. It made for more than one moment where both children and adults became so invested that they muttered their opinion aloud at the screen.
This isn’t an unusual male/female dynamic for this type of movie but how it’s handled in Leap! makes for good storytelling that doesn’t forget it’s a movie built around a child-age protagonist. The film also kept ownership for their feelings and behavior squarely centered on the actor. This departure from making the female responsible for anyone’s feelings but her own infused the entire movie with relatable emotions that elevate the story from the shallowness inherent in of expecting one character (the girl) to carry the emotional baggage for everyone else.
This decision is key when watching Félicie learn to navigate the cliques and isolating world of ballet and confronts her own poor decisions. She’s forced to face her own shortcomings – talent is never enough – and work hard for what she wants. She makes enemies – lying will do that – and friends along the way who aid burning away her myopic view of the world and giving support. She learns what family when a curmudgeonly but surprisingly convincing Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) opens both her home and her heart. The bulk of Leap! felt like a bun-head (ballerina for those not in the know) who loved the Karate Kid made a movie. One particular scene had me waiting for the song “You’re the Best Around” by Joe Esposito to start playing in the background. She may be less than the expected “perfect” many animated movies serve up in its female leads but she’s a driven, three-dimensional character. As she grows and learns, you can’t help but to root for her to – get her sh*t together – get out of her own way and win. But I won’t lie, I wanted her to vindicate Odette – whose story I’d love to see brought to life – by end.
In other words, these relationship are loving, imperfect and realistic enough to bring in elements of childishness and self-absorption to aid in the storytelling (it’s an animated movie, you know there’s a moral or two interwoven with the fun) without taking away from the story momentum. Theirs is a relationship that both adults and children will relate to and have feelings about that will engage, amuse, and teach them something about themselves all without destroying the joy of the story on-screen.
Side Note: the villainess in this film is drawn in fine fashion and voiced with full-throated, knife-edged precision by Julie Khaner is worthy of making the finals in a “I don’t care if you’re a kid, I’ll ABSOLUTELY to end you” competition. She’s beautifully coiffed, devious, diabolical and completely unhinged. I enjoyed the ominous tone she brought to the story because it fleshed out other character, like her daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler) but it may be a bit much for very young movie go-ers.
The Weinstein Company is no stranger to animated movies and like its predecessors, Leap! tells its story with an edge and humor that will capture of the interest of the whole family. If you’re looking for a good movie to feed your animated-movie-jones, you can’t go wrong taking in Leap!
Grade: A –