As an orphan who dreams of joining the Paris Opera Ballet in the animated feature “Leap!,” Elle Fanning really hears it about the artistry and precision required to become a prima ballerina. The makers of this cheery but subpar confection probably should have been taking notes in addition to scripting them.
While the debut release from the Weinstein Company’s new ’toon venture sets its dancing against some spectacular backdrops, there are nagging issues with spotty character animation and endlessly predictable storytelling. No one’s looking for a kid-friendly “Black Swan” to check out with their little recital stars, but you’ll likely sigh at the movie’s creative inconsistency and lack of freshness.
Fanning voices Felicie, a spirited castoff in provincial 19th-century France who seems to have awfully free run of her orphanage-slash-chateau — her rooftop dancing is visually dazzling — but who’s also got one foot out the institution’s door. She joins scruffy friend Victor (Nat Wolff, “The Fault in Our Stars”) for an action-packed escape to Paris, where she immediately attaches herself to Odette (pop singer Carly Rae Jepsen), a gimpy former ballerina turned chambermaid.
Felicie just as quickly gains unlikely entrée into the hallowed ballet school, where her natural ability intrigues witheringly exacting choreographer Mérante (Terrence Scammell). But will Mr. Miyagi — um, Odette — be able to help Felicie hone her raw talent before Mérante chooses another girl for “The Nutcracker”? (A French-accented “wax on, wax off” is all that’s missing from a mirror-polishing bit in a de rigueur training montage.) And will Odette’s wicked-stepmotherly employer (Kate McKinnon) and the taskmistress’s robo-ballerina daughter (Maddie Ziegler) manage to crush Felicie’s mounting hopes?
As a bite-size PSA for kids on pursuing their goals with passion, the movie works. And on a visual level, it even works superbly at points, conveying real magic in images of Felicie gracefully improvising atop the Opera, or of the Eiffel Tower as an architectural dream then still taking shape.
Too often, though, “Leap!” feels workmanlike. Formal as Odette and other characters might be, they’re animated more stiffly than intended. Mel Brooks is wasted as a thinly sketched orphanage caretaker with a Marty Feldman eye, while goofy Victor’s crushing on Felicie mostly just crimps a funnier dynamic she shares with a hunky Russian student (Tamir Kapelian). And was anyone demanding climactic mayhem featuring McKinnon’s maul-swingin’ villainess sneering, “It’s hammer time!,” or techie Victor’s flying machine? Mais non!
Directed by Éric Summer, Éric Warin. Written by Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun, and Summer. Starring Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen, Kate McKinnon. At Fenway, suburbs. 89 minutes. PG (action, some impolite humor).Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.