Review: Animated 'Leap!' is a familiar, albeit endearing, dance confection

Review: Animated 'Leap!' is a familiar, albeit endearing, dance confectionEntertainment

Carly Rae Jepsen’s hit ‘Cut to the Feeling’ gives extra life to a story about a girl who dreams of being a dancer in an exclusive trailer for the animated film ‘Leap!’ Weinstein Company

For the cinematic dregs of late August, the earnest and quirky Leap! is charmingly en pointe.

The Karate Kid of ballet films, the endearing animated film (**½ out of four; rated PG; in theaters nationwide Friday) is a predictable coming-of-age tale set in 19th-century Paris that revolves around a young orphan getting her big chance to dance and eliciting all the available feels.

Youngsters will appreciate the dance scenes (some comedic, some dramatic, some downright war-like), as well as the soundtrack where Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker plays alongside Sia, Demi Lovato and Carly Rae Jepsen. And for the adults in the crowd, Leap! pulls judiciously from Flashdance, Rocky IV and Footloose for inspiration.

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The movie’s setup is slow going at first: Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff) are best friends who plot to escape their rural orphanage, hightail it out of Brittany and head to Paris. While Victor yearns to be an inventor, Félicie — whose slight, rubbery body bends and moves beautifully even when doing the dishes — has sights on being a ballerina.

After finally getting past walleyed overseer Luteau (Mel Brooks), the kids take the train to Paris, where the Eiffel Tower is still under construction and the renowned Opera Ballet School looms large for Félicie. She finds room and board helping out Odette (Jepsen), the school custodian with a painful limp, and takes her shot when she snatches an invitation to try out for the ballet program that’s meant for rich mean girl Camille Le Haut (Maddie Ziegler), who might as well be Ivan Drago in a leotard.

Félicie goes from unskilled rookie to a girl with serious talent pretty quickly, though the story doesn’t totally let her off the hook for her one underhanded yet understandable decision. Her Mr. Miyagi turns out to be the mysterious and stern Odette, and for a pop star, Jepsen nicely inhabits the role of wizened mentor: “Jump and ring the bell” is the “Wax on, wax off” mantra here. (While Odette’s backstory is unveiled gradually, it doesn’t take but a hot minute after her introduction to figure it all out.)

Even though it’s a French period piece, a couple of American national treasures play important roles. The Statue of Liberty is integral in the lead-up to the climax, and Saturday Night Live‘s Kate McKinnon deftly pulls triple duty playing Félicie’s mother, the orphanage’s Mother Superior and Camille’s extremely ruthless dance mom Regine.

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It’s probably best not to hold Leap! to any strict historical standard and ponder how Lady Liberty can be used as a plot device here when she was already ensconced in New York by the time digging started on the Eiffel Tower. Or wonder why 11-year-old Félicie is dancing Irish jigs in a bar and getting creepily hit on by the older Rudolph, a preening East European prince and resident lord of the dance. Or think too hard about why Regine inexplicably makes reference to MC Hammer.

Leap! is best when tapping into the heart rather than the mind, thrilling with an ultimate ballet faceoff that makes Dancing With the Stars look like amateur hour while also watching Félicie’s big dreams take flight.

usatoday.com