Raleigh, N.C. — The first words uttered in Leap! are “Bye bye, Orphanage.” That should tell you all you need to know about just how dumb of a movie this is. I get that it is for kids and so there is no need for snappy, biting dialogue, but this is 2017. Pixar and Dreamworks raised the bar, long ago, on what parents are expected to sit through.
Worse than being painfully unfunny, Leap! is hard to look at. There is a collection of shows that air on the Disney Channel that come from Canada. Their titles include Goldie and Bear, Kate and Mim Mim and PJ Masks. They all have this certain aesthetic. It’s hard to describe exactly, but the words cheap and dated come to mind - like something made with the iMac from the 1990s. Anyone that has kids will know exactly what I mean. That’s what Leap! looks like…you know what? From here on out I am dropping the “!”.
Comedian Patton Oswald has a great bit from like 2005 where he talks about being hired to punch up an animated script. He isn’t allowed to make major changes, because the film is already done and it would cost the studio a lot to change anything, so his job is limited to thinking of funny one-liners said offscreen. That is literally the entire first half hour of Leap.
This movie has been in hell for well over a year. It was released in Canada back in 2016 under the name Ballerina. In fact, earlier this year my family and I flew to Calgary and Ballerina was one of the choices for in-flight entertainment. It has slowly rolled out around the world, with filmmakers tweaking it for various international tastes. It is a matter of too many cooks in the kitchen and it shows.
So what is Leap about? There are two orphans who don’t want to be orphans anymore, so they go to Paris from a small, orphan-centric village in the French countryside. There, girl orphan (Elle Fanning) finds a mom figure (Carly Rae Jepson - yes, of “Call Me Maybe” fame. We’ll dig into this later.) and boy orphan (Dane DeHahn, a name I’ve never heard before) goes to a bar and ends up getting a janitor job.
Girl orphan, who has always dreamed of being a dancer, steals some rich kid’s identity and gets into a fancy ballet school and has to dance her way into…I don’t know exactly, but somehow the Nutcracker is involved.
So let’s talk about this cast for a second. Specifically let’s talk about the four stars that get top billing: Elle Fanning, who you know from a lot of stuff, Dane DeHahn, who I am told was in a Spider-Man movie, Kate McKinnon, who either has a lot of debt or is under a gypsy’s curse that won’t allow her to say the word “no,” and finally Carly Rae Jepson. That the “Call Me Maybe” singer has a large role in this movie isn’t a big deal. That that fact is advertised as if it will bring people out in droves five years after the song was even an afterthought is. It speaks to just how poorly every aspect of Leap was conceived. Jepson’s character does utter the film’s one funny line, “I hate kids. Especially orphans.” You can’t watch this movie and not feel the same way!
French TV writer and hack Eric Summer is the brains behind Leap and he clearly has a fetish for the disabled. Every adult male in Leap has some kind of physical deformity. There is a character that is sort of like the muscle at the orphanage. I think his job is to beat up children. Anyway, he has a lazy eye. The ballet school’s caretaker is a hunchback. Everyone needs a cane. What the hell happened in Paris?
Last point I want to make on this, plot wise, has to do with a weird love triangle. Boy orphan clearly is in love with girl orphan, because that’s how these movies work, right? Okay, so it is clearly stated early in the film that these two are 11 years old. Girl orphan then meets a Russian dancer at the ballet who is also in love with her. It is never explicitly stated how old this kid is, but based on how he is drawn compared to the other young characters, it is safe to assume he is 17. Why does no one put a stop to this?
Leap is a bad bad movie. You know how sometimes I say “if your kid wants to see this movie, you could do a lot worse”? Well, this time I genuinely don’t know if you can. This year I have sat through Smurfs: The Lost Village. I have sat through The Nut Job 2. I genuinely don’t think* you can do worse than Leap.
* - I refuse to see The Emoji Movie.
Demetri Ravanos is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association and has reviewed movies for Raleigh and Company, Military1.com and The Alan Kabel Radio Network.