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‘Leap!’ review: Animated dance story mostly a misstep

An orphan girl travels to Paris with dreams of becoming a ballerina. This animated film features the voices of Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan and Carly Rae Jepsen. (Credit: The Weinstein Company)

PLOT In the late 1800s, a French orphan girl travels to Paris in the hopes of dancing in the ballet.

CAST Voices of Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen

RATED PG (some crude humor)

LENGTH 1:29

BOTTOM LINE An animated French Canadian import with little charm or wit.

In the animated film “Leap!,” set in 19th century France, an orphan girl named Felicie runs away to Paris to become a ballerina. Though she has no training, Felicie assumes a false identity and enters the prestigious Opera Ballet School. There, under the critical eye of the ballet master, Felicie has seven days to prove that she can dance the role of Clara in the National Opera’s production of “The Nutcracker.”

Alas! Spirit and determination are simply not enough, and Felicie is immediately exposed as a fraud, unable to perform even simple movements that require years of training from a very young age. At least, that’s how this story would go if “Leap!” gave any credence to reality. Granted, this is an animated film for kids, and it understandably wants to deliver the message that you can achieve anything if you just put your heart into it. That might hold true for boxing, karate and even Olympic bobsledding — but ballet? What’s French for “get real”?

A coproduction of Canada and France that was released overseas last year, “Leap!” arrives stateside with several American voice actors who, despite their talents, can’t bring this ill-conceived movie to life. Elle Fanning does her best as Felicie, but the character’s high-spiritedness often comes off as thoughtlessness or selfishness. Nat Wolff plays her loyal friend, Victor, who is portrayed as both Mr. Right (though Felicie doesn’t yet know it) and a bumbling moron — a schizophrenic role nobody could pull off. Kate McKinnon plays the aristocratic villain Regine (plus two other voices), while Mel Brooks is Luteau, an orphanage custodian. The one character who tugs at our hearts is Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), an injured former dancer who takes Felicie under her wing.

All told, “Leap!” feels like an imitation of a movie. The dialogue occasionally sounds like poster copy, as when Odette tells Felicie, “Standing in the way of your dreams is your biggest nightmare.” The animation is an uneven combination of warm, expressive faces (Felicie seems to be modeled on Emma Watson) and rubbery, cartoonish bodies (not a great quality in a movie about ballet). Very young children might be mildly entertained, but for most adults, “Leap!” will feel more like a splat.

Let’s dance

The new animated “Leap!” may not raise the barre as far as ballet movies go, but children aspiring to express themselves through dance is a popular plotline. Here are four other films that earned pointes in that regard.

RUSHIN’ BALLET (1937) In this riotous “Our Gang” comedy, Spanky and Alfalfa don wigs and tutus and engage in a ballet ruse when they seek shelter at a dance school to escape from bully Butch.

THE UNFINISHED DANCE (1947) Sweet Margaret O’Brien showed a nasty streak in this MGM musical in which she causes a ballet star (Karin Booth) to suffer a career-ending accident so that her idol (Cyd Charisse) can become a dance troupe’s prima ballerina.

BILLY ELLIOT (2000) The title lad (Jamie Bell), who seems headed to follow his dad and brothers for a life in the coal mines, shocks them all when he opts to study ballet.

MAD HOT BALLROOM (2005) You think ballet is tricky? This critically acclaimed documentary profiled a bunch of New York City grade school kids who have to step it up in the merengue, rumba, tango and more as they prepare for a ballroom dance competition.

— Daniel Bubbeo

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