The animated feature “Leap!” pirouettes onto screens this weekend, hoping to snag the attention of young audiences during the dog days of summer. This Canadian production, originally titled, “Ballerina,” finally hits U.S. theaters equipped with a Carly Rae Jepsen summer jam, “Cut to the Feeling.” But you’ll spend an hour and 27 minutes waiting for the film to cut to that tune because the ramshackle storytelling leaves much to be desired in this tale of a young girl finding passion and purpose through dance.
Though the distressingly large lollipop heads of the characters are often disconcerting, some of the animation is striking, and near photorealistic. It just seems like all of the resources have been put into the background environment instead of the characters.
There is a lot misplaced effort in “Leap!” and unfortunately, very little seems to have been put into the story and screenplay, written by Laurent Zeitoun, Eric Summer and Carol Noble. It is all over the place and inconsistent – perhaps retooled for too many different markets.
We’re plunged into the drama right away, as dreamers Félicie (Ellie Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff) bid “bye bye” to their draconian orphanage in the French countryside and hitch a ride to Paris. She wants to be a dancer, and he wants to be an inventor, not that this is well-established at all.
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Within a day, Victor is working for an unnamed Gustav Eiffel, and Félicie has scammed her way into a prestigious ballet school after taking the acceptance letter intended for spoiled brat Camille (Maddie Ziegler), for whose evil mother (Kate McKinnon) Félicie has been working. It’s totally justified because Camille threw Félicie’s dead mother’s music box out a window. Pursue your dreams, kids! Commit mail fraud! And identity theft! (You know your movie has a serious storytelling problem when you start thinking, “that mean mom has a point…”)
Not only does Félicie have to juggle two identities, but she has to juggle two boys, Victor, and Russian dancer Rudy (Tamir Kapelian), though it’s entirely unclear how old everyone is. Félicie is young enough to have to lived in an orphanage in 1880s France, but old enough for dating, apparently.
The grasp of time in “Leap!” is nebulous at best. What seems like days pass in just 24 hours at some points. Then there are the truly strange anachronisms throughout. The contemporary pop soundtrack notwithstanding, Félicie traipses around in denim shorts, and the characters say things like “your dancing sucks” and they make “Hammer Time” jokes. And yet, we know it’s supposed to be the 19th century, because of the proliferation of top hats and horse-drawn carriages, and because both the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty are under construction. It’s an inconsistency that’s hard to get over.
Elle Fanning does give a charming voice performance and the dancing is lovely to watch (choreographed by stars of the Paris Opera Ballet), but there are so many haphazard elements to “Leap!” that it never comes together. It doesn’t commit to a time period, the characters are constantly flip-flopping, and Félicie’s journey doesn’t always seem honestly earned. You may just want to wait for “Leap!” to hit home entertainment before you take the plunge.
Animated, with the voivces of Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kate McKinnon and Maddie Ziegler. Directed by Éric Warin and Eric Summer. Rated PG for some impolite humor and action. Running time: 1:29