Sunday, September 3, 2017

Leap! Review

Or, as it's referred to in just about every other country, "Ballerina." I'm not sure why they decided to change the title here in the United States, especially since "Ballerina" is a much better title than "Leap!" When you look at the title "Leap!," you might be confused about what the overall point of the movie is, until you look at the trailer and poster, of course. But "Ballerina" leaves no room for further explanation. It would be really easy to convince your five-year-old daughter to see a movie called "Ballerina." If you simply asked them if they wanted to see the movie "Leap!," you'd probably have to follow that up with the explanation that it's the ballerina movie, in which they would probably jump for joy. So why not just keep the name "Ballerina"? But oh well. It is what it is. Now if you live in the U.K. or France and you are wondering why I'm reviewing this movie now, because it came out LAST YEAR for you and has already been on DVD over there for a while, it's because not only do we sometimes do dumb things by giving your movies dumb titles, but sometimes it takes us a while to catch onto things as this just came out last weekend over here. And because nothing else worth seeing was out last weekend, I thought, "What the heck. I'll go see this."

If I'm being completely up front about this, "Leap!" is kind of a dumb movie. Hence is why it's in the 30 percent range on Rotten Tomatoes. I get it. But in this specific instance you'll notice that I'm going to be a heck of a lot more forgiving towards this movie than I have other animated movies this summer like "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3" and "The Emoji Movie" because I think context and target audience is extremely important here. "Leap!" is not a movie intended to be a best picture nominee that will blow the minds of every adult who sees it. In fact, it's not targeted at all towards all of those grumpy adults giving it bad reviews. This is a movie that is specifically aimed at five-year-old girls and I am absolutely confident that those five-year-old girls who see it will totally love it and it may even inspire them to start dancing or have a goal to be a ballerina. And if I'm right on that and the movie accomplishes this, then I think it's a huge win. That's the beauty of cinema. Hundreds of movies come out each year and if you look hard enough then you will find something for everyone. "Leap!" happens to be the movie for five-year-old girls and I think that's fantastic. If you watch the trailer and decide that this isn't for you, then that's perfectly fine. Find something right for you.

As far as the plot goes, yeah this one is really simple. Felicie is an 11-year-old orphan girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina, but due to her situation with her mean, angry owners of the orphan, this dream seems like an impossible one. So one day, her and her inventor friend Victor, devise a plan to escape the orphan and go to Paris, which of course works. When they get there, they get separated. Victor ends up at the workshop of Gustave Eiffel while Felicie ends up stealing the identity of the snobby brat Camille, thus joining the class of young ballerinas at the school of the Paris Opera Ballet where there is a competition as to who gets to play the lead role in the upcoming performance of "The Nutcracker." Lucky for Felicie, she runs into a former famous ballerina named Odette who trains her in the art of becoming a ballerina. If you think that sounds like a combination of about 30 different movies who all told a similar story, but better, then you are absolutely right. For some reason I thought of "Cinderella" meets "The Karate Kid." But there's probably a whole bunch of different combinations that this movie feeds off of. If you feel like docking the movie because of that, then I understand. But that didn't bother me as much as it should've.

The other thing that stood out to me right away was that it felt like it was a French movie that had been poorly dubbed over into English. Given that this is a French film, had that been the case it wouldn't have been super surprising. Foreign animation films usually have a dubbing and a subtitles version of their movies. I always prefer subtitles because I like hearing the original voices and I don't mind reading the subtitles. After 10-15 minutes, my brain adjusts to it and I feel it's not much different than watching a movie in English. But in the case of "Leap!," after my own investigation of the matter, it appears that this was initially released in English. In looking at the animation itself, it appears that their mouths are speaking English words and not French words dubbed into English. And I can't find anywhere that reveals a French version of the cast. So then my next conclusion is that perhaps this was just miscast. Elle Fanning, 19, and Dane DeHaan, 31, are voicing our two 11-year-old main characters. Carly Rae Jepsen, 31, is voicing the older former ballerina while Maddie Ziegler, 14, is voicing the rival girl Camille. Maddie is the only one that seems on point. The others do fine, I just think maybe they should've picked voices closer to the characters' actual ages?

The other problems that I'm sure others will point out is that the animation isn't quite up to par when you compare it to other animated films from big studios and of course the story is as by the numbers as you can get. But do you know what? I think this movie had enough heart in it. I think it teaches positive messages about dreaming big and following those dreams. Along with that, it teaches that you need to work hard to achieve your dreams and if you do things that aren't morally right or if you slack off and just expect everything to fall to you, there will be negative consequences. But yet despite mistakes that may be made, these obstacles can be overcome. People can change and do things the right way. Are these lessons that have been taught in movies before? Absolutely. But again, target audience. While us adults may have seen these things plenty of times in movies, there's a chance that young girls watching this movie might not have seen it as much as us adults and this is a movie that can inspire them to dream big. It hits all the notes you think it will. But it hits them right and has enough likable characters and plot points that I gave it a pass. Plus, the little girl sitting close to me in the theater seemed to be loving life. That has to count for something, right?

So here's an interesting discussion point. Why am I being so nice and forgiving towards this movie's flaws while I was super harsh on "Cars 3," "Despicable Me 3" and "The Emoji Movie"? Because, yes, all four of these movies have flaws, but all four did manage to please at least some of their target audience of young kids. While there's a lot of ways that I could answer this question, and you could refer to my reviews of each movie if you want full details, but I think one major reason is expectations. I've seen lots of Pixar movies that entertained kids while blowing the minds of adults. That's kinda their brand. So for Pixar to then deliver a juvenile, lazy sequel intended to sell toys, that's disappointing. And when "Despicable Me" and "Despicable Me 2" followed a specific formula that made those movies so fun, deep and charming, then deliver a crap shoot that will only entertain small kids with "Despicable Me 3," that's also disappointing. And, well, do I need to discuss "The Emoji Movie"? Sony Animation has also made solid movies, so for them to dip to the absolute lowest of lows in filmmaking is rather disturbing. "Leap!" doesn't come from any major studio and is simply out to make a film for young girls to love and it manages to do just that.

For some final thoughts on this review, there are a few other moments that I legitimately loved. You could perhaps trash the story all you want, but there's a lot of animated dance choreography in this movie that is legitimately well done and the soundtrack is spot on. There's even one moment where Felicie and Camille have a dance off to Demi Lovato's "Confident" and I was really entertained. Maybe the voice acting was a bit off, but the characters were likable enough. You're rooting for Felicie and Victor to succeed in their endeavors and even though the story is super familiar as you could come up with a lot of different movies that it seems to follow, it's a charming enough journey along the way with a positive message for young girls that will teach them to dream big and to work hard to follow their dreams. This is not an easy journey for Felicie and not everything just magically falls into her laps and there are times where she wants to give up. But through persistence, she is able to overcome the challenges facing her. So if you are a parent with young girls, you should go take them to see this one. Or you can wait and rent it when it comes to DVD or play it if it shows up on Netflix. It's a charming little film that I'm going to award a 7/10.

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