Adam Sandler voices the lizard title character in Netflix's "Leo."

Adam Sandler voices the lizard title character in Netflix's "Leo."


WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Leo the lizard faces mortality while on the cusp of turning 75. After spending all those years as a classroom pet for fifth graders in Fort Myers, Florida, content to observe the endless parade of students from the comfort of the tank he shares with his only companion, a turtle named Squirtle (Bill Barr), Leo (Adam Sandler) decides the time for change is afoot. 

Just think of all the experiences he has missed, the opportunities for fulfillment lost year after wasted year. When the new substitute teacher decides that a volunteer from the current crop of kids must take one of the pets home each weekend, Leo finally gets the chance to find the freedom he has yearned to experience.

But, alas, he accidentally reveals to the first child to bring him home that he's not just an old lizard, but one who can talk and be understood by humans. And he discovers that he has a lot of life advice to offer these students. A new calling emerges.

The animated "Leo," the latest Sandler production for Netflix, arrives courtesy of directors Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and David Wachtenheim. 

And if all that weren't enough, it's also a musical, though the songs are forgettable.

MY SAY The notion of a class pet having accrued enough wisdom over the years to become a de facto therapist for students makes a lot of comedic sense.

Just think of what he's witnessed.

That's especially true when the lizard in question gets the full-on Sandler treatment, complete with one of his characteristic "funny" voices. 

"Leo" fulfills much of that promise as our hero transitions from serving as a classroom pet version of one of the Muppet critics Statler and Waldorf to a dispenser of pearls of wisdom such as "you're great, but no one's that great -- we're all just people and lizards."

While that advice might constitute some gentle real talk, the movie is sweet and unrelentingly positive. Leo turns out to be a good listener and capable of providing useful perspective to the children that turn to him, all of whom suffer from common afflictions (often involving the struggle to fulfill parental expectations) sure to have been felt by a large chunk of the audience.

But while it might be unrealistic to wish that a movie for family viewers had a little bit more of an edge to it, "Leo" would have benefited from a sharper screenplay. The balance between being funny and heartwarming has always proved challenging. Here, things skew too heavily toward generic sentimentality. Leo never really goes anywhere interesting; the therapy sessions start to blend together and the quick-paced humor of the early scenes gets largely forgotten.

That also increases the spotlight on the run-of-the-mill animation and the general lack of visual imagination, save for one excellent early montage as Leo thinks back on his life and realizes he might not have much time left.  

BOTTOM LINE "Leo" has a positive message and some first-rate Sandler voice work. For many viewers, that's probably enough. But honesty compels us to note that there's a much better movie in there somewhere.

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