Jumping into theaters Aug. 25 is “Leap!” This Weinstein Company animated film doesn’t feature talking animals or cars, and it doesn’t seem to have been created to spawn a series of sequels or a line of merchandise. This film was made just to be a movie, and there is a something greatly refreshing about that.
A coming-of-age tale filled with comedy, adventure, music and dance, “Leap!” tells the story of two tween orphans – Félicie and her best friend, Victor – who escape the stifling orphanage where they live and go to Paris to pursue their dreams. She dreams of being a ballerina and he wants to be a great inventor.
Once in Paris, they are quickly separated and, also quite quickly (perhaps a little too quickly), enter their desired worlds. Victor gets an apprenticeship with the man creating the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty (an unseen Gustave Eiffel). Félicie, meanwhile, finds her way to the Opera Ballet School and is taken in by a gimp-legged cleaning woman named Odette, who works for the school, and a cruel wealthy woman named Régine.
Régine and Odette are determined to get Régine’s daughter, Camile, into the ballet school. After Camile treats her badly, Félicie intercepts Camile’s acceptance letter and impersonates Camile, taking her place at the school.
The story plays out in an enjoyable, if not particularly unique, way. At the school, a self-centered dancer named Rudolph flirts with Félicie, which makes Victor (who harbors a love for her) jealous. The stern Odette warms to Félicie and teaches her to be a dancer, though her deception at the school is eventually discovered. Régine’s villainous behavior grows increasingly cruel, leading to an over-the-top showdown with Félicie.
Despite the unoriginal plot, director Eric Warin, writer/director Eric Summer and writers Carol Noble and Laurent Zeitoun provide “Leap!” with many endearing qualities. You will feel the friendship and love that Félicie and Victor feel for each other. Odette will draw your empathy even though her tragic secret is not hard to guess. There is a touching plot twist involving the orphanage’s gruff caretaker, and supporting players from the ballet school and Victor’s sidekick, Max, lend comic support.
Elle Fanning (“Boxtrolls,” “Maleficent”) and Nat Wolff (“The Fault in Our Stars”) do a nice job voicing Félicie and Victor, while Kate McKinnon, Carly Rae Jepsen and Mel Brooks round out the movie’s notable voice talents.
“Leap!” probably won’t land an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film, but it doesn’t try to be something more than it is. And that is worth praising. The film succeeds in its modest ambitions – being a sweet, cute movie that is amusing enough to keep kids entertained and keep parents off their smartphones.