The untapped young female audience is the driving force behind “Leap,” a lively animated version of “Flashdance” that’s aimed at the very specific target audience of tween girls who are wannabe ballerinas. It’s a formulaic underdog story that, while mostly tiresome and bland, could prove to inspire some of the budding dreamers who watch it.
Elle Fanning voices Félicie, a dance-loving orphan who escapes to Paris with her wannabe inventor best friend Victor (Nat Wolff) to pursue their dreams. The film is set in France in the 1800s, but why? Only two of the characters speak with an accent and the setting, save for a partially constructed Eiffel Tower and the absence of cell phones, do nothing to serve the story.
Félicie befriends a hobbling former dancer (Carly Rae Jepsen) who now scrubs floors for the wicked Régine (Kate McKinnon) and her equally nasty daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler). When presented with the opportunity to pull one over on her bullying nemesis, our young heroine pretends to be from the rich family in order to secure a spot at the prestigious ballet academy.
You can probably guess what happens next. I will admit that it’s a little refreshing to see a female protagonist who shows that with hard work and determination, you can change your life and live your dream (even if she comes about it in a dishonest way). The plot may be uninspired and predictable, but at least it never sinks into the dreaded brainless, dopey territory that derails so many kid movies (that is, until the big chase scene finale where the filmmakers throw in a dated MC Hammer reference. Really). The blandness of the story is overshadowed only by its all-too-tidy, perfectly wrapped in a big, pink bow fairytale ending — because it would just be far too irresponsible of us as adults to deliver kids in the audience with a hard dose of reality, right?
Thanks to the technological advances in computer animation, the film at least looks marginally polished and professional, but combined with the lackluster vocal talent (including Mel Brooks as the orphanage’s caretaker) and the stiff visual design (giant heads on tiny bodies), the characters leave a muted, lifeless impression. The film’s strength comes from its nicely choreographed animated dance sequences (set to out of place modern pop music) that may motivate the middle school set to twirl their way out of the theater.
Although this movie smacks you in the face with its low-budget feel, it’s just good enough to warrant a theatrical release instead of being handed a direct to video sentence, destined for a lifetime of half-hearted viewing by your fidgety kids in the backseat of the minivan.