“Leap!” could have soared higher

By Denise Parker

Following a dream is a beautiful goal. Preservation and passion help fuel people to leap over barricades. That is the essential theme for the Canadian film “Leap” which premiered in 2016 and came to the United States this year. Despite the stunning animation and its wonderful music, “Leap!” fails to fully jump off the screen.

The 3D, computer-animated story follows eleven-year-old orphan Félicie (Elle Fanning) and her dream to become a ballerina. By her side throughout her journey is her best friend and aspiring inventor Victor (Nat Wolff for the American version). Set in the 1880s, the spirited heroine and her oafish sidekick leave their orphanage and travel to Paris, France to fulfill their dreams. Upon arriving in the city of lights, Félicie finds it difficult to be accepted to the supreme Paris Opera Ballet. She partners with a former ballerina and caretaker of a mansion, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), who gives her formal training. Félicie also steals the identity of the accepted candidate Camille Le Haut (Maddie Ziegler). The students are competing for the role of Clara in The Nutcracker, a role determined by the strict instructor Mérante (Terrence Scammell). While facing ups and downs, Félicie overcomes many obstacles to fulfill her dream.

Photo Credit: The Weinstein Company.

Despite the positive lesson the movie aimed for, the story was bland. “Leap!” brought interesting characters, and the animation was striking, but the story and plot were not. The pacing and its structure was like many children’s films produced in America: Félicie has a dream, she aims to achieve it, she perseveres after a few setbacks, she gets her heart broken at some point as she questions her own talent, and in the end she achieves her dream. The structure is the same as many “Barbie” movies found online. Yet “Leap!” also offers plenty of laughs and entices audiences through adventure and drama.

As animated films shift from traditional artwork and move to computer generated, “Leap!” comes to life in that department. Dancers graced their scenes with their gorgeous moves. Details were placed into clothing even if not all outfits would reflect citizens in Paris in the 1880s. The overall flow was as graceful as a dancer and as appealing to the eye as a painting.

Though released in 2016 and known around the world as “Ballerina,” the movie was heavily tailored for its American release this year. The American version contained well-known talents such as Mel Brooks, Kate McKinnon, and Nat Wolff. The acting was a hit or miss. Animation is a movie genre, but it still is a league of its own. Bringing the character to life is the job of an actor. Yet characters played by big time names Brooks and McKinnon sounded like they were only reading their lines. There was no gusto. Those who achieved that goal were leads Fanning, Wolff, Scammell and Ziegler. Others, including Jepsen, fell somewhere in between.

Because “Leap!” is a ballerina story, audiences will recognize famous musical scores from existing ballets, like “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake”. The movie does bring in some original scores that enhances the scenes and beautifully capture the atmosphere. Singers like Sia and Demi Lovato included their work. Lovato’s “Confident” brought the drama and the adrenaline needed for the dance off between spunky protagonist, Félicie, and snobby rival, Camille. Though such a selection comes off as an archetypal pop music rather than an inventive dancing composition – especially for the American audience.

The original idea for “Ballerina” was a great one. The only rough patch is the pacing of the story. The lesson of following a dream and asking the main character “Why do you dance?” is terrific for those young girls.

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