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"LEAP!"
(2017) (voices of Elle Fanning, Carly Rae Jepsen) (PG)


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QUICK TAKE:
Animated Musical: In 19th century France, an 11-year-old orphan girl runs away from her orphanage to Paris, hoping to realize her dream of becoming a famous ballerina.
PLOT:
In 19th century France, Felicie (voice of ELLE FANNING) is an 11-year-old girl who lives a humdrum existence in a rural orphanage. With adoption unlikely, she dreams of running off to Paris with her best friend and fellow orphan, Victor (voice of NAT WOLFF), and becoming a famous ballerina. Victor is clearly smitten with her and concocts a plan of escape, evading the stern headmaster, Luteau (voice of MEL BROOKS), to jump a train to the City of Lights.

Once in Paris, Felicie meets a woman named Odette (voice of CARLY RAE JEPSEN), a former dancer who suffered a bad leg injury and is now a cleaning lady at both the Grand Opera House and the home of the cruel Regine (KATE McKINNON). Regine has raised an equally mean and entitled daughter named Camille (voice of MADDIE ZIEGLER), who is on the verge of being accepted to a prestigious ballet training program at the Grand Opera House. Felicie intercepts the girl's acceptance letter and steals her spot in the class.

Separately, Victor has found work as an apprentice to Gustave Eiffel (who is not seen in the film), the man who designed the Eiffel Tower and also contributed to the building of the Statue of Liberty. Victor dreams of being an inventor to impress Felicie, but she is smitten with a handsome boy dancer named Rudolph (voice of TAMIR KAPELIAN). When Felicie's ruse is discovered, though, her whole future is thrown into jeopardy.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
The new animated dance drama "Leap!" is not so much a movie that has things wrong with it from a traditional film critic's perspective. The animation is actually quite good, the voice talent is solid, and the story is well-paced. The biggest problems with the film is -- and how can I put this in scholarly, authoritative terms -- it's SOOOOOO wrong!!!

"Leap!" is your basic wish-fulfillment fantasy about a little orphan girl who dreams of being a star ballerina at the Great Opera House in Paris. But pretty much everything she does to achieve that dream is illegal, immoral, or unethical. It wouldn't be so bad if the film wasn't always on her side! It seems to say that by doing wrong, little Felicie (voice of Elle Fanning) can do no wrong. The ends justify the means. As long as you have a passion and a dream, you can totally commit crimes and engage in extremely reckless behavior to achieve your goals.

This might have been OK if we were watching "The Young J.R. Ewing Story." But "Making of a Dancer: The Young Felicie Movie?" Maybe I'm being extra-sensitive, but this flick really rubbed me the wrong way with its mixed messages for little girls delivered at all of the appropriate applause points.

Some examples? Well, 11-year-old Felicie runs away from her orphanage in the dead of night, jumping off its roof with her friend, Victor (voice of Nat Wolff), in a flying contraption he invented, then hopping a moving train while evading the orphanage's disciplinarian, Luteau (voice of Mel Brooks). Once in Paris, she steals the identity of another little girl who had trained for years to be accepted into a prestigious dance academy at the Grand Opera House. Felicie has no training. She stumbles all over the place and doesn't even know the basic positions. But she has ... HEART! All is forgiven.

Her stern, disapproving teacher then spots her -- an 11-year-old -- dancing on the tables of a bar late one night to the cheers of grown men. And, at that point, he realizes she has ... THE PASSION to be a dancer. And then lets her stay in the school even after her ruse is discovered. But rather than working hard and dedicating herself even more to defeating her rival, the girl she stole the identity from, she goes out on a date the evening before her big audition and stays out all night! She, of course, botches the audition and is rightfully carted back to the orphanage.

Felicie says "I'm sorry!" throughout the film. But you never get the sense that she means it or wouldn't do it all over again. And the film continually lets her off the hook by making everyone around her either enablers or almost completely evil. It's OK that she stole Camille's (voice of Maddie Ziegler) identity, because the little girl is such an arrogant, mean little snot. She deserves to stay in the dance school because she has heart and because Camille's mother, Regine (voice of Kate McKinnon), was buying her way in anyway and was being forced to dance rather than for the love of it.

At one point, Felicie is back at the orphanage all sad and pouty. Then she has a dream where she remembers her mother giving her a prized keepsake music box and telling her to follow her dreams. But she's remembering this moment when she is an infant! All the while, Felicie continues to dance on rooftops high above the ground where if she falls, it would mean certain death. This skill comes in handy because the film's climax has a vengeful Regine chasing the little girl up the scaffolding of the under-construction Statue of Liberty with a sledgehammer (!) all the while trying to ... maim and kill her!!!

Then, there are just the weird things that are wrong. It's a film set in the 1880s, but Luteau chases Felicie and Victor via motorcycle? The characters use terms like "barf bag" and "You suck?" A climactic performance of "The Nutcracker Suite" is set to a ... throbbing Carly Rae Jepsen dance song? Oh, and the film is basically "The Karate Kid" done with pirouettes instead of Crane kicks to the face. Felicie is coached in private by a once-great dancer named Odette (voice of Jepsen), who teaches her to dance with such non-traditional techniques as cleaning mirrors with her feet rather than her hands and spinning on a wagon wheel and then trying to hand-deliver a glass of water without dizzily falling.

This film was released in Europe and elsewhere as "Ballerina" in 2016. Some of the voices have been changed. But the story has basically stayed the same. The flick may have your littlest ones dancing out of the theater and wanting to be Felicie. But don't be surprised when your little darling also pushes down her friend who also wants to be a dancer and mutters something like "No mercy!" I've tried to warn you. "Leap!" rates a 3 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed August 19, 2017 / Posted August 25, 2017


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