"Leap!" is a charmer of an animated film that sneaks up on you a little bit, kind of like a sugar rush after eating too much candy.
The film’s basic elements are not all that original: a feisty heroine fighting the odds, a roguish boy who is in love with her, a snooty rival with all the privileges and no heart, and an uplifting ending for its target audience of pre-teen girls. But they all play out so well and so cute with enough unexpected twists that it ends up being an enchanting family trip to the movies.
Little red-headed girl Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) lives in a dreary orphanage, dressed in her dreary patched up skirt and living a dreary life. The only thing that keeps her hopeful is the music box left to her by her long gone mother, and her fellow orphan best friend Victor (voiced in the American release of the film by Nat Wolff).
Félicie and Victor escape the orphanage and catch a train to Paris, where they expect to make their respective dreams of becoming a ballerina and an inventor come true in short order. Through a series of coincidences and schemes, Félicie finagles her way into her dream ballet school in Paris by stealing a bratty rich girl’s identity, and Félicie learns a thing or two about how hard ballet really is.
The doll-like animation is lovely, like peering into the biggest most elaborate dollhouse you’ve ever seen. As in many animated films the cast could have used more diversity, but its Quebec production company otherwise created compelling, expressive main characters and scenic streets of Old Paris. "Leap!" was released last year in France, and earlier this year in Canada under the title “Ballerina.”
There may not be a lot in this film that will hold the attention of young boys—the focus is on Félicie and her dream of being a ballerina. The message is a healthy one for girls: if you have the passion, you’ll make your dreams come true. But writers Eric Summer, Laurent Zeitoun and Carol Noble also snuck in the all-important work ethic lesson, as Félicie briefly derails her lucky break with a little too much hubris.
For young girls who are dancers, there is much to relate for them, and they may find even more to love about Félicie practicing her positions and leaps and learning to pirouette without getting dizzy.
The level of humor and dialogue is definitely on the kid-scale, and the film is not the kind that plays on one track to adults watching and another to little ones like Disney’s classic “Aladdin” or Fox’s “The Lego Batman Movie.” But it is a colorful, delightful children’s film that young girls may find inspiring, too.
2.5 stars (out of 4)
Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, and Carly Rae Jepsen voice this animated tale of two late 19th century orphans who flee Brittany for Paris, one to fulfill his dream of becoming an inventor and the other to become a famous ballerina. 89 minutes. Rated G, suitable for all audiences.