Eleven-year-old Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) lives in a French orphanage in the 1880s, but she dreams of escaping and becoming a ballerina in Paris in this fun but forgettable animated flick from directors Eric Summer and Eric Warin. With the help of her best friend Victor (Nat Wolff), who aspires to be an inventor, they sneak off to the City of Light. Once there, Félicie meets and is mentored by Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), a once promising dancer who now scrubs the floors of a famous Parisian opera house that’s home to a prestigious dance academy. To gain admittance to the school, Félicie steals an admissions letter intended for another pupil who treated her badly. Soon, she’s in a small group of dancers auditioning for the plum role of Clara in a production of The Nutcracker.
Odette tells Félicie that she has “the energy of a bullet,” but also “the lightness of a depressed elephant.” It’ll take more than desire to win the part of Clara; it will take dedication and uninterrupted practice. Yet Félicie gets distracted by a handsome Russian dancer, which threatens to derail her ambitions.
Leap! is a well-worn underdog tale about never giving up on one’s dreams. It’s helped immensely by lively performances from Fanning, Wolff, and especially Mel Brooks as Luteau, the grumpy overseer of the orphanage (although his abrupt transformation late in the film from cantankerous to caring doesn’t quite ring true). Kate McKinnon is also good as three different characters, including the wicked Regine Le Haut, who’s basically a carbon copy of Cinderella’s evil stepmother.
Although the movie is set in France, no one in the cast attempts a French accent. Even more curious are the song selections on the soundtrack, which are all modern American pop anthems. The target audience of young girls likely won’t mind, but a ballet story set in the late 19th century probably should have gone with a bit of classical music rather than bubblegum tunes by Demi Lovato and Carly Rae Jepsen. And we’re pretty sure that girls weren’t wearing jean shorts, as Félicie does, in the 1880s; speedy motorcycles weren’t around either, but Luteau races around on one nevertheless. So much for the details.
Some parents will understandably fret over Félicie’s identify theft—for which she later apologizes, but is ultimately rewarded for pulling off—and over a scene in which the youngster visits a bar and dances atop tables for its rowdy patrons. She also has a dangerous habit of walking, jumping, and dancing on precarious rooftops. In addition, there’s something pernicious about the fact that Félicie (spoiler alert!) wins the coveted Nutcracker role at the last possible minute, and performs it with a professional ballerina moments later without a single rehearsal. It’s nice to have dreams, but turning them into reality usually requires a lot of hard work.
Leap! is undeniably uplifting, well-intended, and never boring. The animation is solid if not stellar, its story formulaic but amusing, and at a brisk 85 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome. That’s admittedly faint praise, but to heap further kudos on the film would require quite a leap indeed.