‘Leap!’ Is a Passable Animated Romp for Older Kids

Leap!” combines European animation, American can-do spirit, and a plethora of pop songs to create a mildly entertaining but ultimately rote animated tale that may appeal to older kids more than little ones.

Felicie (Elle Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff) are a pair of orphans in the French countryside with big dreams — she wants to become a dancer, and he wants to be an inventor. The two escape their modestly terrible orphanage and run away to Paris, where they stumble into unique opportunities. She stumbles on a chance to impersonate a spoiled rich girl dancer (voiced by “Dance Moms” alum Maddie Ziegler) and get a break in the ballet school, where she is mentored by a cleaning lady with a dancing past of her own (Carly Rae Jepsen). Victor becomes employed with Gustave Eiffel himself, the engineer behind Paris’ most famous landmark.

Eventually, Felicie’s lie is discovered and she must prove herself worthy to everyone at the ballet school, and mend her friendship (and slight romantic interest) with Victor.  She also must learn why she truly wants to dance and the power of believing in herself and working hard for her dream.

If that sounds trite, well, “Leap!” can be at times. The overall storyline is very paint by numbers: orphans, dreams, big city, kindly mentors, snobby rich people, unlikely scenarios to prove oneself, and a happy ending for all. Little is done to elevate or energize the proceedings, save for a few excellent visual gags. When Victor describes his first night in Paris after he and Felicie are temporarily separated, it’s accompanied by a sweeping set of freeze frame images that are pretty hilarious. There’s also a sequence of Felicie dancing in a pub, combining step and ballet, that is elegantly animated to show off fairly realistic moves with little cartoon exaggeration.

The look of the movie is nice, with Parisian backgrounds and aerials looking smoother than the characters. But nothing in the character design or overall look sets it apart like a Pixar or even a Dreamworks production. If it weren’t for some cinematic moments and dance sequences, the standard character animation could almost be mistaken for other direct to video kiddie flicks.

Fanning is surprisingly flat as dreamer Felicie, rarely giving the girl the kind of spunk and warmth that would make her endearing. Ziegler, just dipping her dance-trained toe into the acting world, is adequate as mean girl Camille. Voice acting may not be her forte, but it’s still too early to count her out as an actress. The breakout is truly Nat Wolff, infusing the nerdy Victor with more energy and charm than could be reasonably expected when an American voice cast dubs a European animated feature. Compared to Fanning’s wooden delivery, he’s a delightful live wire that would get kids excited. Singer Carly Rae Jepsen sounds remarkably grown up, even past her 31 years, as Felicie’s mentor Odette, with a stern but loving voice to her character’s over-eager protégé.

Two unexpected comedic talents also pop in the voice cast, the most surprising being Mel Brooks. He is sadly wasted as the orphanage’s enforcer, with several rote lines. But even at 91, there’s a spark to his performance. SNL’s Kate McKinnon pulls triple duty as a nun, a mysterious voice and the villainous mother of Camille. She does what she can with each role, but it would be wonderful to hear her really take charge with a better formed character like Ellen DeGeneres did with Dory in “Finding Nemo.”

Overall, the message of following dreams with passion and hard work may appeal more to an older kid crowd, and parents will find slight amusement over the 90-minute runtime.

Leap!” is in theaters Aug. 25.