August 29, 2017

Leap! Barely Gets Off the Ground

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Leap! has taken a very peculiar path. It actually came out a year ago under the title Ballerina, appearing in both France and the UK. Now the Weinstein Company has delivered the movie to US theaters. Directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin, Leap tries to take on some inspiring (if cliched) themes, but falls flat due to a combination of botched writing and animation.

The movie follows Felicie, a young orphan voiced by Elle Fanning who dreams of being in the Paris ballet. Her friend Victor, voiced by Nat Wolff (although the original featured Dane DeHaan), wishes to run away to Paris as well to become an inventor. Together they escape the orphanage and make it to the city. From there, they part ways and the narrative focuses on Felicie as she struggles to find a way into the most prestigious dancing school in Paris. A cleaner named Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) takes the girl under her wing, and from there they begin to work under their employers’ noses to make Felicie’s dream come true.

To begin with, the dialogue frequently fluctuates between good and poor, sadly falling more into the poor category. The biggest problem is that it never seems to stop. The issue arises almost immediately: when Felicie and Victor escape, the orphanage caretaker chases them down on his motorcycle, and he keeps spouting off one-liners in a stream of “I see you, I got you now, get back here, I’m not really upset, come back!” There’s so much empty dialogue that it ends up grating on the senses and cluttering the runtime. You can’t focus on the action when he keeps mouthing off.

The dialogue also attempts to interject humor with the delicacy and care of a shotgun. The movie is so desperate that we’ll get bored without constant laughter. As a result, it throws jokes at us that aren’t just unfunny, but detrimental to the story. For example, Felicie mostly comes across as someone who will do anything for her dream — after all, she had tried to run away on multiple occasions, and seems willing to do very hard work to succeed. But when Odette tells her to be up at five in the morning to practice, Felicie quips, “Can we maybe start after lunch?” Now, if she had started out in a place where she didn’t want to do the hard work, it’d be a good way to contrast with later in the movie. That’s not what happens here though, and it hurts so many characters besides Felicie. There are some good lines and readings, but it seems every good scene has to be punctuated by a fart joke or an MC Hammer reference (yes, in late-1800s France).

The dialogue also suffers from poor delivery. At times when slower readings and silence is needed to let emotion really ferment and grow, the actors instead read their lines flatly and as quickly as possible. Coupled with the delivery is an issue of character animation. The mouths often don’t fit the lines, which I can partially attribute to the fact that new voice actors had been brought in for the US release. However, many characters who kept their voices still have the same problem. It’s jarring, and completely shatters the suspension of disbelief. On top of that, the expressions are often backwards. That is, they are grotesque and exaggerated when subtlety is needed, but subdued and bland when expressiveness is needed. We don’t feel the illusion of watching people on screen, we’re just watching CGI models move around as people talk over it.

And that right there is the movie’s biggest flaw. It doesn’t feel like anyone here is a character to really get attached to. Felicie as the protagonist gets a little more care, but even then she’s awfully bland. I had to go back online to remember the other characters’ names. Characters that are downright repulsive at the beginning suddenly end up decent near the end, for no apparent reason and with no buildup or development in between. Actually, scratch that: there is a reason, to lecture to the protagonist and audience AGAIN about how important it is to follow your dreams. Characters and plot are sacrificed to the moral, and all three suffer for it.

So far, I know I’ve been badmouthing the movie, but there were certain parts I did like. I mean, a movie about pursuing your passions despite adversity sends a good message to kids. Some of the dynamics are interesting, such as Felicie’s rival only trying to dance because of her mother’s pressure. The overall idea for the story is sound enough, and could have been really good! The execution simply fails to gain any traction.

Honestly, there’s little else to say about the movie. The animation works at some points, but in others the bodies just appear weightless and, thus, jarring. The soundtrack is full of generic pop songs, but at least there’s nothing trying to hook to any memes. They show the Statue of Liberty being assembled in Paris, but it was already green, which only happened when the New York ocean air rusted the copper skin. The history nerd in me pitched a fit, but I can grant artistic license at least that far. Of course there is that one point where a crazy old woman tries to kill Felicie with a hammer and shouts “Stop! It’s hammer time!” at which point I physically covered my face with my hands in sheer embarrassment… but gosh darn it, I weathered The Emoji Movie, where I had to do that every five minutes.

In the end, Leap! is a harmless movie. If you have kids and they want to see it really badly, there’s nothing inappropriate. You can definitely find better and more entertaining alternatives though. I’ve heard that Paris also houses a rat who tried to pursue his dream of being a cook — maybe that’s a better story for family movie night?


David Gouldthorpe is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at [email protected].