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Friday, August 25, 2017

Leap!

Leap! (And yes, the exclamation mark is part of the title.) is a very strange animated film that seems distracted by itself.  It wants to tell the story of a plucky young orphan girl who dreams of dancing ballet, but it keeps on throwing in subplots about romantic triangles, rival dancers, a young inventor, dead mothers, and the cranky old man who works at the orphanage who's really not as bad as he seems.  As if that's not enough, the movie goes completely off the rails with a ludicrous climax where the young heroine is chased up the Statue of Liberty by a crazed sledgehammer-wielding villain in an action sequence that seems to be lifted right out of the Roger Moore-era of James Bond.  To be honest, I did not see that one coming.

Originally titled Ballerina, this is a French-Canadian film that has slowly been released around the world during the past year, and is just now hitting America.  Certain actors like Elle Fanning (as the young girl who dreams of being a dancer) and pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen have had their voices connected to this film from the beginning.  But for whatever reason, certain characters have been recast for the American release, with their voices being dubbed by the likes of Nat Wolff, Mel Brooks and Kate McKinnon (who gets to provide the voice of three different characters).  The end result is, quite frankly, a mess.  The performances run the wide range of just sounding wrong (Fanning's voice sounds too old to be coming out of what appears to be a 12 or 13 year old girl), not sounding very interested or involved (Jepsen), to non-stop rambling (Brooks frequently talks, even when it's clear his character's mouth is not even moving).  It's distracting, and gives the film a shoddy feel.

As the film opens, we're introduced to young dreamers Felicie (voiced by Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff).  They're stuck in a ramshackle orphanage, but quickly make plans to escape, run away to Paris, and pursue their dreams.  As mentioned, Felicie dreams of practicing ballet at a world famous school.  Within a day of being in the city, she manages to scam her way into joining a class when she steals an invitation letter intended for a spoiled brat named Camille (Maddie Ziegler), and poses as her.  But don't worry, it's okay that Felicie is performing mail fraud and identity theft in order to get what she wants, because Camille was mean to her, and broke the music box that Felicie's dead mother (Kate McKinnon, in flashbacks) gave her once.  Also, Camille's mom (also voiced by McKinnon) is pure evil.  Not only does she look strikingly similar to the Wicked Stepmother from Disney's animated Cinderella film, but she's frequently cruel to the crippled girl who acts as her maid, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen).

Turns out Odette used to be a dancer herself, until an injury ended her dreams.  She takes Felicie under her wing, and begins to train her in ballet in a series of exercises such as standing in a puddle of water, and jumping up to reach a bell, only to land without making a splash in the puddle.  But the movie's not really about dance, or learning about it.  Just about everything that has to do with dance is brushed aside in music montages set to forgettable modern day pop songs, even though the movie is set in 19th Century France.  What the movie instead chooses to focus on is the young Victor, who dreams of being a famous inventor, and winds up getting a job helping to build the Eiffel Tower.  Victor is the "Nutty Professor" type, frequently walking into things, bumping his head, and providing fart jokes when needed.  He's also apparently not smart enough to realize that chickens don't fly, even though he appears to be around 13 or so.  There's also a love triangle, when Felicie falls for a handsome young Russian dancer in the class, and Victor feels betrayed, as he has always had feelings for her. 

Leap! struggles to make us care about its plot, so it instead tries to dazzle us with its animation, which often comes across as a mixed bag.  While I wouldn't exactly call the character designs ugly, there is something very artificial and plastic to them.  Maybe it's the somewhat oversized heads, and faces that look just a little too flawless and scrubbed clean to look natural.  Where the artists have clearly put all their attention to is the backgrounds, which feature some stunningly detailed locations for the streets of Paris and the dance school.  They're lovely to look at, but since nothing all that interesting is happening in front of these backdrops, we quickly realize that staring at a still frame of one of the backgrounds in this movie would achieve the same effect. 

And then there's just the fact that the movie seems far too modern for a film that's supposed to be set in 1880.  I already mentioned the pop music that scores most of the movie.  When Felicie gets a chance to perform in The Nutcracker, I expected to hear some of Tchaikovsky's music, but instead, she starts dancing to a Carly Rae Jepsen tune.  There's also the dialogue, where people say things like "your dancing sucks" and even at one point make a reference to M.C. Hammer.  This movie simply dumbfounded me.  I didn't know how to react to it, or who exactly it was made for.  Young girls will obviously be pulled in by the story of a girl becoming a famous dancer, but they'll be disappointed to learn that this plot isn't as important to the overall movie as you would think.  And just when you think the movie actually will finally be about dancing, we get the previously mentioned action climax that manages to be both bewildering and laughable all at once.

Leap! is an all around haphazard production that never settles on what it wants to be, or a proper tone.  You can tell that all the enthusiasm here went into the settings and animating some of the dance montages.  The plot, script, characters and just about everything else were all a second thought, which is probably why this movie feels so strange when you're watching it.

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