Leap! (2017) Review
BUT A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Its nearing the end of August (when I’m writing this review) and the 2017 summer at the movies seems to be winding down. As to expected, this seasonal timeframe saw a lot of ups and downs in the way of box office / critical success within all the movies being released. Within the family entertainment category, there’s been wide range of animated feature films, exploring the various worlds of Cars (Cars 3), imaginary comic book superheroes (Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie), Emojis (The Emoji Movie), Minions (Despicable Me 3), and various park animals (The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature). With all these movies expressed the inner worlds of these mostly non-human / anthropomorphic animated characters, it would seem fitting for audience viewers to get partake in a cartoon tale with a more “human” story to tell. Now, as the summer of 2017 closes out, The Weinstein Company and directors Eric Summers and Eric Warin present the animated film Leap! (or Ballerina in non-US territories). Does this latest cartoon feature have the energy of a bullet or does it have the lightness of a depressed elephant?
Set in the 1880s, 11-year old Felicie (Elle Fanning) has lived most of her life in orphanage and is ready to change of scenery, growing weary of her mundane life and of her cold caretakers. Joined by her fellow orphanage pal Victor (Nat Wolff), Felicie dreams of Paris, where she can become a world-renowned ballerina and he can become the greatest inventor of all time. Deciding to make a break for it, the pair runs off to the City of Lights, with Victor chases his destiny, while Felicie ends up in the company of Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), a physically disabled woman who works for the Paris Opera Ballet while employed as a servant for the cold-hearted Régine Le Haut (Kate McKinnon), whose stuck-up daughter, Camille (Maddie Ziegler), is expecting a letter to be schooled at the Paris Opera Ballet. Intercepting Camille’s invitation letter, Felicie, poses as her, cheating her way into the program, working hard to develop her non-existent ballet skills, soon aided by Odette to help her shape her into an elegant dancer and impress the ballet’s choreographer Mérante (Terrence Scammell). However, how long can Felicie keep up this present before the truth comes out?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I said, its nearing the end of summer and it’s been a pretty interesting summer at the movies. Big hits, disappointing flops, mediocre successes, and some…. I don’t know what to call them. The animated feature films that were released during this past summer followed the same path, with some that were met with financial success like Despicable Me 3, critical success like Cars 3 and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie, and disappointing failures like The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature and The Emoji Movie. Suffice to say, the 2017 animated movies have had their fair share of ups and downs.
This comes back around to my current review for Leap!, which comes at the tail end of the 2017 summer season. For those who don’t know, Leap! Isn’t necessarily a new movie. Well, it’s at least new in the US territories as the film, which was originally titled as Ballerina, is an international animated feature that was first released in France in December 2016 and then Canada in February 2017. The movie was supposed to be released (in theaters) on March 3rd, 2017 in the United States (originally going up against films like Logan, The Shack, and Before the Fall). However, the film’s name was changed from Ballerina to Leap! (much like 2016’s Crouse was changed to The Wild) and its release date was pushed back April 21st, 2017 and then again to August 25th, 2017. Strangely, as many times I’ve been to the movies, I not once saw the trailer for Leap!, but I did remember seeing several images and the movie’s poster surface online now and again. So, in a nutshell, I sort of walked into the movie without any preconceived notions about what the film was or even its name change. What did I think of it? Well, basically, despite its premise and some passable vocal performances, Leap! doesn’t have much to offer, becoming an average animation endeavor that falls squarely in the middle of the 2017 animated summer movies. It definitely had potential to be great, but it just settles for being mediocre instead.
Leap! is directed by Eric Summers and Eric Warin. Summers has had a background in directing several TV shows like Inventions, Profilage, and Sous le Soleil, while Warin has a had work on several projects T’choupi et Doudou as a storyboard artist, The Triplets of Belleville as a character designer, and director of the short film Alex and the Ghosts. Since I went into this movie somewhat blindly (having no idea what the movie was going to be about), one of the most interesting aspects of Leap! was its actual premise (i.e following Felicie’s journey of becoming a ballerina). With so many animated films being caught up in more fantastic elements and being more extravagant in its storytelling, Leap! is somewhat “breath of fresh air”. It’s not about supernatural entities of good and evil, or journey to a mystical world (or to outer space), or comical non-human side-kick characters. It’s just a tale of a young girl’s dream to become a ballerina as well as finding her place in the world (i.e follow your dreams), which is a tried and true storytelling arc. Additionally, the narrative device premise of becoming a ballerina is also unconventional for an animated movie, which is a plus for Leap! / Ballerina. So, despite its flaws (more on that below), Leap! has good premise.
Animation-wise, Leap! is adequate. Yes, there are some very beautiful scenes that the movie conjures (utilizing the setting of Paris circa 1880s), but there are some jarring moments. Character body movements are fluid and feel correct (for an animation movie that is), but the facial features, while detailed to some degree, seem a bit dated. Additionally, the overall animation, in comparison to recent animated films, can seem a bit dated. However, knowing that Leap! (or rather Ballerina) wasn’t created by big known animation studio (i.e Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or Illumination Entertainment), so I really can’t harp on that as much. Thus, I would have to say that the animation for Leap! is decent as it’s not the best (could’ve been greatly improved), but I’ve seen far worse animation in cartoon features.
As for the film’s music, Leap! does utilize several pop songs within the feature. Most of the songs are contemporary pop-like songs, but seem good a fit within the context of the film. This includes songs like “You Know About You” by Magical Thinker & Stephen Wrabel, “Unstoppable” by Camila Mora, “Rainbow” by Liz Huett. Strangely, while all those songs are featured on the movie’s soundtrack, three songs weren’t released on the soundtrack, including “Cut to the Feeling” and “Runaways” by Carly Rae Jepsen and “Suitcase” by Sia. Personally, I liked “Cut to the Feeling” the most as I even downloading it on iTunes (heck, it was only $.069 cents and it’s quite catchy). The only song that I felt weird in the movie was “Confident” by Demi Lovato. It just felt out of place and strange to be featured in the movie, especially when it’s been presented as part of poignant scene of the feature. Additionally, the film’s musical score by Klaus Badelt is fairly good (i.e. good, but nothing to rave and / or brag about).
Unfortunately, problems do quickly arise within Leap!, which ultimately holds the movie back from being great. As I said above, the movie premise is quite interesting and showcases a sort of “follow your dreams / heart” story motif / nuances, which works within the film’s context. Unfortunately, the story itself seems quite rushed, with events happening really quickly and leaving not enough to truly invest the film’s plot points and characters. Speaking of those two elements, the plot seems a bit underdeveloped. While the narrative formula is familiar (and maybe conventional) it really doesn’t bring anything new to the table beyond the usage of the ballerina premise, which makes Leap! feel vaguely generic of going through the motions of being predictable within its plot. Also, this doesn’t help the fact the movie is only 89 minutes long; a problem for the movie as it the film feels too condensed within the story that Summer and Warin want to tell. This also extends the characters, which are too many with some being either cookie-cutter and / or undeveloped, including Felice’s orphan friend Victor, who’s journey could’ve been an entire separate movie all together (Victor comes into the employment of Gustave Eiffel). Additionally, there are several choppy scenes as Leap! utilizes a lot of montage sequences to allow the passage of time, which is usually accompanied by a musical song. While this tactic can and has proven to work, Summers and Warin use it too much, making Leap! feel disjointed at various points. The movie also doesn’t provide enough nuances for its setting of what it could’ve. Yes, the film showcases an 1880 Paris, France with the partial constructed Eiffel Tower, the Paris Ballet Opera House, and the Statue of Liberty, but that’s pretty much it, which is a sort of missed opportunity for the film.
To be truthful, Leap! has potential to be something great, but never truly goes anywhere with its potential. Moreover, it would’ve been beneficial if the movie was done by one of the major animation studios like Disney. If that was the case, Disney, which is seeing its revival of its signature roots of late (i.e. Frozen and Moana), could’ve made Leap! into one of their classic Disney films, with better animation, a longer narrative to devote to story / characters elements, and replacing the film’s musical pop songs for something more creative musical sing-along songs that Disney is known for. This is what makes Leap! so frustrating as (like I said) it has the potential, but squanders its potential in what could’ve been a deep and movie story of self-discovery (i.e follow your dreams) animated feature.
Then there is voiceover work for Leap!, which is also a sort of mixed bag. Granted, I’m not saying that the voice talents that were selected were bad, but rather some of them don’t match the voice to their respective characters that are playing as. Acting as the main protagonist of the feature is Felice, who is voiced by Elle Fanning (Dakota Fanning’s sister, if you didn’t know). Fanning, known for her roles in Maleficent, The Neon Demon, and Super 8, does a sort of good job as the film’s main character, using her youthful voice to imbue Felice with the sense of innocence wonder and heartfelt determination. It’s not the best voiceover for an animated film, but Fanning gets the job done for bring Felice to life. Behind her is pop musician singer Carly Rae Jepsen, who provides the voice for Felice’s rudimentary ballerina tutor Odette. While she mostly known for her sing rather than acting, Jepsen probably does the best voiceover work of the film, giving the character of Odette depth and meaningful purpose, despite her character being the most stereotypical as Felice’s Mr. Miyagi teacher. She doesn’t overact the part, which is good, and doesn’t break out into song, which is another good thing. Additionally, Maddie Ziegler, a reality TV show star from Lifetime’s Dance Moms does the voice for Regime’s snotty daughter Camille Le Haut and does a pretty good job, capturing the right amount of arrogance of being Felice’s quasi-ballerina rival. Lastly, Terrence Scammell (Arthur and Animal Crackers provides the voice for Felice’s stuffy and stern ballet instructor Mérante and does good work in that particular role, while Tamir Kapelian (A Broken Code and Waves Full of Bliss) does the voice for mysterious ballet dance Rudolph, who takes a romantic interest with Felice.
After doing some research, I found that some of the original voice actors for Ballerina were replaced for when Leap! was released in the US. This includes the characters of Felice’s orphan pal victor (originally voiced by Dan DeHann and replaced by Nat Wolff), the wicked Regine (originally voiced by Julia Khaner and replaced by Katie McKinnon), and the lazy-eyed orphanage caretaker Luteau (I couldn’t find the name of the original voice actor, but the US “Leap!” version is voiced by Mel Brooks). Why did they do this? Who knows? What I assume the reason is to help market the film better in the United States, using comedic names of Mel Brooks (Spaceballs and History of the World) and Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters and Office Christmas Party) as well as youthfulness of Nat Wolff (Paper Towns and Death Note). However, I’ve seeing the original film Ballerina (after I saw Leap! in theaters) and the original voice talents to three characters (Victor, Regine, and Luteau) seem perfectly fine as is. The problem with changing the voices for these characters is they don’t quite match up, with a lot of dialogue lines that feel clunk and rushed or by adding additional lines when the character’s face isn’t visible on- screen (i.e when their backs are turned or a faraway shot). It’s almost painfully obvious of this tactic and becomes annoying. Honestly, I liked the original Ballerina voice actors over the replaced Leap! voice actors for their respective characters, despite the fact that the replaced Leap! voice actors are more well-known. Also, there a bunch of other side characters that appear in the movie, but their so flat and underdeveloped that they bare register in the film, which is disappointing.
Felice’s journeys to the Paris, France to fulfill her dream of becoming a ballerina dancer in the film Leap!. Director Eric Summers and Eric Warin film, which was originally titled Ballerina in the international territories, tells a very familiar tale of a youthful individual who follows her dreams on a journey of self-discovery, using the ballerina aspect as an interesting narrative device. Unfortunately, the move just feels formulaic / generic, with mediocre animation, mixed voiceover work, and not much depth giving into its already too crammed story. It’s just sad that the film could’ve so much more than what it was (if another animation studio produced it). Personally, this was just okay, but I ultimately felt frustrated by its wasted potential. Thus, this movie is just a passable animated endeavor and I would recommend it as an Iffy-choice at best as it’s really not destined to be animated classic in the family cartoon genre, with a lot of other better (more compelling and prominent) currently out there. It’s just sad that the film could’ve so much more than what it was (if another animation studio produced it). All in all, Leap! (or rather Ballerina) will not go down as terrible animated movie, but it will heavily scrutinized as a cartoon film that had such great potential, but was just a missed opportunity.
2.7 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)
Released On: August 25th, 2017
Reviewed On: August 29th, 2017
Leap! (Ballerina) is 89 minutes long and is rated PG for some impolite humor, and action