Film Review: Animated ‘LEAP!’ sets a low barre

An animated “Flashdance” meets “Cinderella,” ”LEAP !” isn’t so much bad as it is bewildering. The feature about an orphan girl who dreams of dancing professionally is set very vaguely in the 1880s, in Brittany and Paris, and contains nods to that general time — like an under-construction Statue of Liberty and Eiffel Tower. (Never mind that when work started on the Eiffel Tower in 1887, the Statue of Liberty was already perched in the New York Harbor). But the characters talk like it’s present day (or in some cases, like it’s 25 years ago, throwing out zingers like “it’s Hammer time!“) and dress like they’re in a Barbie-steampunk production of “Fame.” One aspiring ballerina wears a pink sweatband and leg warmers. Others dress like Dickensian street urchins. And then there’s all the anachronistic pop music.

This would all be more tolerable were the dialogue better or the story a little smoother, but, alas, that seems to have been the last thing on anyone’s mind after executing the pretty computer animation that very beautifully approximates both the light-as-a-feather dancing and a Paris fit for a storybook. Thus we’re left with a villain who throws barbs like, “Tired is for losers!” and a heroine who we’re led to believe has such raw talent that she can in a matter of days go from not knowing what first position is to being in serious contention for a leading role in a Paris Opera Ballet production. And then there are the morally questionable choices the lead makes to get ahead.

The heroine is a very Emma Stone-like wide-eyed, red-headed 11-year-old named Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) who escapes her orphanage with the help of a doting friend, Victor (Nat Wolff) and heads off to Paris to find a dance school. After nearly getting arrested for trespassing in the Palais Garnier, Felicie ends up assisting a disabled maid, Odette (played by pop star Carly Rae Jepsen), who cleans both the opera house and the large home of a very wealthy family (the wicked mother Regine is voiced by Kate McKinnon and the bratty daughter Camille is played by Maddie Ziegler) and there decides to partake in some light identity theft.

Yes, Felicie steals Camille’s letter of acceptance to the ballet school and pretends to be her to get in to the classes. All’s fair for dreamers, I guess? The real rub, however, is that Camille is actually a devoted student of ballet, whereas while Felicie can’t stop talking about her dream to dance, she doesn’t know the slightest thing about ballet. But one training montage with Odette solves that and suddenly Felicie is one of the top students in the class and very well could score the part of Clara in the ballet (which ballet? That’s unclear, since “The Nutcracker” was first performed in 1982 and the only other ballet referenced, “Swan Lake,” has no young character named Clara.)

There’s also an odd subplot involving a love triangle which has both Victor and a blonde Russian dancer vying for Felicie’s affections. “His cheekbones!” squeals Felicie at one point. She’s 11. It’s a bit much.

“LEAP!” is a fine-enough background movie and one young kids might very well take to, but it’s just mystifying how lazily the story components seem to have been put together and how shamelessly it panders to some imprecise notion of what modern children want (Pop music! Slang! Love triangles?).

For this former kid, the most enchanting films to watch were those that committed to the period setting, like Alfonso Cuaron’s “A Little Princess,” or Agnieszka Holland’s “The Secret Garden,” that transported you to a world so unlike your own.

“LEAP!” tries to have it both ways and is lesser for it. No matter how catchy a song “Cut To The Feeling” is, it has the unfortunate effect of making “LEAP!” already seem hopelessly dated.

“LEAP!” a Weinstein Company release, is rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America for “some impolite humor, and action.” Running time: 89 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Follow AP Film Writer Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr

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