Leap!: Sit Down, by David Bax
Éric Summer and Éric Warin’s Leap! is an animated French film that has already charmed audiences in its home country before finally making it to screens here in the U.S. Despite those situational similarities, though, don’t get it into your head that Leap! is some sort of overlooked gem like Mark Osborne’s The Little Prince. No, this is a doggedly programmatic attempt at crowd-pleasing that seems to have been made even worse in translation. I don’t just mean that the English-speaking actors’ words don’t match the lip movements of the characters or even that they sometimes have to speak unnaturally quickly just to make the sentences fit. I also mean that the French sense of humor does not travel well. It’s not that our kids’ movies don’t have fart jokes in them; it’s just that they’re so much more clever and elegant fart jokes over here.
Felicie (Elle Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff) are orphans in Brittany in the late 1880s whose chief goal is to escape the orphanage and flee to Paris. Felicie is determined to become a ballerina and Victor is certain he’s destined to be one of the world’s great inventors. Upon arrival in the City of Lights, they get to work on their dreams with shocking ease and efficiency. Felicie soon takes over as the main character, working her way through dance school under an assumed identity and powered by montages set to current day-pop songs from the likes of Sia and Carly Rae Jepsen (who also voices a major character).
As if it’s not enough that Felicie finds herself enrolled in a prestigious ballet school and Victor is hired as an apprentice to Gustave Eiffel within 24 hours of arriving in Paris, the wisps of conflict in Leap! never rise above the level of rote and obligatory. Even the seemingly biggest setback (Felicie’s true identity is found out!) is immediately straightened out (the headmaster’s going to let her stay in school anyway!).
There’s an argument to be made, though, that this is not necessarily a bad trait. What is Leap!, after all, if not an escapist fantasy? For Felicie and Victor to live out their dreams with only a modicum of opposition—clearly there simply to fulfill narrative expectations—is wish fulfillment as much for them as for their audience, right?
Perhaps there’s truth in that and this movie is, thus, essentially harmless. But there is harm in perpetuation some clichés. In this case, the most despicable version of the love triangle trope shows up to inflict itself on unsuspecting young audiences. Exhaustingly, Victor is not content being Felicie’s best friend. He holds a flame for her too. Meanwhile, she’s smitten with the older, conceited boy at the school, Rudy (Tamir Kapelian). But, of course, we’re led to believe that this is wrong, not the way things should be. Girls should, apparently, feel guilty for not being in love with their weird, creepy, hanger-on male friends.
All of this, it ought to go without saying, is wrapped up neat and pat by the end. That is, until a completely unhinged final fifteen or so minutes featuring a ballerina dance-off, another student’s mother literally trying to murder Felicie and Victor swooping in to save the day with an actual flying contraption that he has built. It’s stratospherically over the top and, in its own ludicrous way, quite a bit of fun. Unfortunately, it’s far too late to salvage Leap! by that point.