Film, Foreign

Leap! fails to reach any kind of great height

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I wanted to review something good this week. Entertaining. Thought-provoking. Unique. Then executive dysfunction and quarantine exhaustion set in – I had Cutthroat Kitchen on as background all week because it didn’t require focus and the days just seemed to fly by. I would sit down with my laptop and book of crossword puzzles, and before I know it, it’s like 3 PM.

And I’ve done nothing.

I ended up watching Leap because I vaguely remembered seeing commercials for it and thinking about how ridiculously generic it looked and wondering what the hell was up with their choice of setting. Then I watched it.

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This movie follows 11-year-old Felicie, an orphan living in France during late the latter half of the 19th century. She and her friend Victor escape to Paris to achieve their dreams – hers of becoming a ballerina and his of becoming an inventor. After intercepting a letter meant for a girl named Camille, Felicie gets a spot learning ballet at the Paris Opera.

She has to learn all about being a ballerina, get the dream role of Clara in The Nutcracker all while keeping her true identity a secret. A generic set-up but it has some possibilities.

All of my thoughts were confirmed. Then some. This movie was a jumbled, anachronistic, dull, uninspired piece of drek. There’s nothing really inherently bad about the movie – but mostly it’s just really, really forgettable. Which honestly, maybe a good thing if it ends up being your 5-year-old’s new favorite movie. You won’t get sick of it on repeats. 

But for your sake and theirs, let’s hope your kid has better taste. 

Anachronism Abounds

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I am personally of the opinion that if you’re going to set your film in any time period or setting that isn’t  contemporary, there should be some kind of reason beyond aesthetics. You have to utilize it. Otherwise, it just becomes busy backgrounds.

And also, if you do choose to set your story in another era, you should strive to make somewhat historically accurate. No woman, orphan girl or not, is going to be wearing any kind of shorts anywhere in the Western World in 1879. And moist certainly not denim shorts.

Denim did exist and was used in France, but it was for people who did manual labor. But even if she did happen to be in the workhouse, our protagonist, Felicie, would not be wearing shorts.

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And her “rival” Camilla would not be wearing a 1980s style black leotard and legwarmers. I get that it’s visual shorthand for ballerina but nobody else wears the same style and the same idea could have been achieved with a leotard like top and poofy skirt.

Likewise, the film seems to use the time period as an excuse to have a dramatic confrontation on the yet-to be assembled pieces of the Statue of Liberty -but construction on the statue didn’t begin until years later. Likewise, the Eiffel Tower, which also plays a small role, hadn’t been built yet,

I mean, if two important historic marvels are going to play a role, maybe you should set your film in a year when they both exist.

But the biggest historic flaw is Felicie, is competing for a role in The Nutcracker, which also did not exist in 1879. I don’t get it. I get that this show would be the most familiar to audiences, but why not try to introduce something that maybe they wouldn’t know? Or if you are going to have a performance of The Nutcracker before the show was written, have the movie set around Christmas?

All these choices just make the setting feel arbitrary. The only plausible reason I can find is that the ballet instructor is an actual ballet instructor who taught at the Paris Opera during that time. Which just seems ridiculous. What five-year-old is going to know who that is? What person outside the world of dance is going to know who that is?

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Why not just set the film a little later, so you can the aesthetics you want and have the girls taught by an expy of him?

Yeah. I know it’s a VERY petty complaint. But it just seems like an odd narrative choice to insist on that bit of historical accuracy.

And to seal the deal, all of the music are gaudy “inspirational” pop song covers –It just clashes with the whole setting. It makes the whole movie feel awkward and disjointed, like nobody could agree on when the film should take place, so they just mashed ideas together, or they figured their target audience wouldn’t understand music, dancing, or clothes unless it was something they could immediately recognize.

Kids are a lot smarter than you give them credit for. Believe me, a ballet obsessed a five-year-old will consume any media that features ballet -so why not give them something new that they can really sink their teeth into?

Cliché. Cliché. Grand Jeté.

This film is so chock-full of clichés that I can’t believe it didn’t try any really stale self-referential humor jokes. There’s nothing about this film that stands out. The characters are bland and unmemorable at best, and the stereotypical “nice guy” best friend at worse.

And just for once, I would like it if one of these movies didn’t have to include an orphan’s plot trinket. Especially when the trinket doesn’t serve any real purpose -It doesn’t help Felicie find her parents nor it does it lead her to the Paris Opera.  It is implied that it inspired her love for dance, but there are a million other ways that could have been done that didn’t feel so forced and unnecessary.

This movie was so boring that couldn’t remember any of the names of the characters, the second the movie finished. And I had to triple check to make sure I got the details right because so many things were unclear.

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Felicie even has a shoe-horned in love interest -Rudi, who is said to be a ballet prodigy as well as royalty. His main flaw is that he doesn’t like poor people and thinks he doesn’t need to practice because he’s so talented.

Which yeah -not a great dude, but he’s also like 13…so that’s also pretty standard behavior. I get that personality matters, Felicie, but if we’re talking practicality you should go after the kid. Don’t just rely on ballet to get you higher in society…marry a prince.

You’re an orphaned girl in the 19th century. You gotta do what you can to survive. And even better, he probably won’t be sent off to fight when WWI comes about. Your friend Victor, who I thought was name Hugo for some reason, won’t be as lucky.

This movie really hits on all the clichéd tropes: work hard and your dreams will come true,  believe in yourself, and be yourself… During most of this movie, Felicie has assumed the identity of a girl named Camille, so she can learn ballet at the Opera.

We do meet Camille beforehand and though she’s rude, it seems she has been working towards this for a long time. But, Felicie isn’t found out because it turns out Camille’s mother bribed school officials to give her a daughter a place, so Felicie’s lack of knowledge is given a pass. 

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(Which actually works, most movies with this plot usually have the imposter faking the identity of somebody known to be much more talented.) But while Camille doesn’t have natural talent, she’s still clearly a knowledgeable and good dancer…so it’s a little unfair that Felicie gets away with her lying scot-free and even gets the role of Clara in the show.

I don’t get how somebody with no dance background can somehow manage to beat out a whole class of talented and passionate dancers, who got into literally one of the top ballet schools in the world on their own merit, for such a large role.

It’s the same thing that pisses me off about High School Musical. Like yes, the protagonists “worked hard,” but so did their rivals. Felicie literally cheated her way into the school and while she did work hard, so did the other girls who are all nice people.

 

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This movie is supposed to be about how hard work pays off, but it kind of ruins that message when it doesn’t acknowledge all the hard work the other students have put in. You don’t get into the Paris Opera ballet class, without some high level of skill. (Sure, it requires expensive classes and tutors, but that’s still work.)

Can’t keep on tempo.

Like many movies of its ilk, Leap! Has horrible, horrible pacing issues. And this is made worse by the film’s thinnest threads of plot. There’s no real set-up, no real conflict, unclear stakes and poor character dynamics.

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While the whole terrible orphanage trope doesn’t appear, I feel it would at least give the characters more motivation to run away and not want to be caught. It’s not like it’s a bad place, and there’s no implication that they’ll be cruelly punished if they are forced to return.

So why should I not want them to be caught? They try to build up more sympathy for Felicie by having her scared walking around in a busy city and having nobody be nice to her, but they don’t show anyone was mean to her.

And I feel Camille has some justification for being rude the first time she meets Felicie – I’d be rude too if I found a stranger in my home, though throwing Felicie’s music box was obviously just plain mean.

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But that also doesn’t justify Felicie stealing her spot. But nobody ever suspects Felicie of deception because of Camille’s mother bribery, so it makes the fear of getting caught basically non-existent. And Camille nor her mother appear until near the end of the film. If we had gotten a scene or two of them being suspicious or snooping around trying to figure out why the acceptance letter never came, it would have upped the tension a little.

And Victor basically has no plot line or character arc. His talent of inventing is barely mentioned and does so little for the plot, that he is barely worth a mention.

Why do you dance?

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This question is supposed to be one of the main themes and a driving force. It gets repeated several times, but Felicie doesn’t spend too much time thinking about it, and her answer is simply it’s just what she’s always wanted to do.

And that’s great… I’m sure all the other girls have similar reasons…if we ever got to hear them. We’re supposed to compare Felicie’s genuine passion to Camille’s forced participation by her stage-parent mother, but since they’re not threats for most of the movie, it’s hard to see that.

And when it is bought up, it’s handled with all the subtlety of a cinder block being tossed out of a third story window. They don’t even bother trying to make it subtle , which just makes it all look lazy.

Credit Where It Is Due

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For everything bad about this movie, it does have a saving grace in its portrayal of the art of ballet itself is accurate and beautifully animated, which makes all the other storytelling choices quite odd.

Dance can be hard to animate, so the fact that the team worked so hard to make everything accurate and good-looking. The animation in general is quite nice, as are the character designs.

There is nothing bad about the style but nothing that makes it stand out either. But I suppose it’s less forgettable than the story.

Look, if you’re looking for a way to distract your kids for a bit and you’re already sick of Trolls 2, Frozen 2 or Onward… Yeah, this’ll do it. Add a little variety to your movie rotation. 

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Score:3/10

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Info

Year of Release: 2016

Length: 89 minutes

Producers:  Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, André Rouleau, Valérie d’Auteuil

Directors: Éric Summer, Éric Warin

Writers: Éric Summer, Laurent Zeitoun, Carol Noble

Voice Actors (English): Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Maddie Ziegler, Carly Rae Jepsen

 

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