Susan Granger’s review of “Leap!” (The Weinstein Company)
Aimed specifically at pre-teens, this animated feature has a bizarre history. Originally a French/Canada co-production, titled “Ballerina,” it performed well in Europe last year. Unfortunately, the Americanized version lost its magic somewhere in the mid-Atlantic.
Set in the French countryside of Brittany in the late 19th century, the story begins at a dreary orphanage, where spirited 11 year-old Felice (Elle Fanning) and her scruffy friend Victor (Nat Wolff) decide to run away to Paris, where Felice can become a famous ballerina and Victor an accomplished inventor.
After escaping from the surly Supervisor, Monsieur Luteau (Mel Brooks), they arrive in the City of Light, where they’re accidentally separated.
The Eiffel Tower is under construction, and Victor lands a menial job as an apprentice in the prestigious atelier of Gustave Eiffel.
After wandering the streets, Felice sneaks into the Paris Opera Ballet. When the guard catches her, Felice is befriended by Odette (singer Carly Rae Jepson), the lame cleaning lady who has a second job as a housekeeper for evil restauranteur Regine Le Haut (Kate McKinnon).
Madame Regine’s daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler) is also an aspiring ballerina, so Felice deviously wangles her way into Ballet Academy auditions by impersonating snotty, selfish Camille.
Although she yearns to play the part of Clara in “The Nutcracker,” untrained Felice has a problem. As Master Merante (Terrence Scammell) puts it, she has “the energy of a bullet and the lightness of a depressed elephant.”
Thinly scripted by Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun and co-director Eric Summer, working with co-director Eric Warin, it relies on a formulaic, yet predictable, often anachronistic underdog plot, exhorting young viewers to “follow your dreams.”
There are many similarities to “Anastasia”: both girls flee from orphanages, both have precious music boxes somehow connected with their past, and both pretend to be someone they’re not.
FYI: “The Nutcracker” didn’t premiere until 1892 and was not performed outside of Russia for many years after that.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Leap!” falls flat with an inconsistent, barely functional 4. Wait for the DVD.