Ballerina (aka Leap) ** / *****
Directed by: Eric Summer & Éric Warin.
Written by: Carol Noble & Eric Summer & Laurent Zeitoun.
Starring: Elle Fanning (Félicie Milliner), Dane DeHaan (Victor), Maddie Ziegler (Camille Le Haut), Carly Rae Jepsen (Odette), Julie Khaner (Régine Le Haut), Terrence Scammell (Mérante).
The number of movies aimed specifically at little girls is so small, that it’s disappointing for me – as a parent of two of them – when one comes along, and just isn’t very good. That’s the case with the Canadian/France co-production Ballerina (which is apparently being released Stateside as Leap in April) – a rather thinly plotted and derivative animated film about a young, orphan girl named Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) was dreams of becoming a ballerina – and finally gets her chance. The film pulls out all the clichés you can imagine during its 90 minute runtime – never once surprising or challenging its audience. The film is about the level of a direct-to-DVD (or streaming) title that you throw on for the kids one rainy Saturday so they’ll shut up long enough for you to regain your sanity. While it didn’t bore my five year daughter – she also hasn’t mentioned it since – and this is a girl who still breaks into songs from Trolls or Moana or a nearly daily basis.
The film is set in 1880s France – where Felicie and Victor (Dane DeHaan) are orphans – and both of them want to escape their country orphanage and head to Paris – concocting a series of crazy schemes to get them out – until one of them actually works. Felicie wants to become a ballerina, and Victor wants to become an inventor – and both stumble into the beginnings of their dreams almost immediately upon arrival in France – Victor gets a job as a lowly assistant of the genius building the Eiffel tower, and Felicie discovers the premiere ballet class at the Opera house. She cannot get in of course – but does befriend the cleaner at the opera – Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) – who harbors secrets of her own, and also works for Regine Le Haut (Julie Khaner) – a wealthy, but cruel woman, who is determined that her daughter, Camille (Maddie Ziegler) – becomes a premiere ballerina – and has bribed her daughter’s way into the class at the opera. Through a series of confusions, Felecie ends up in the class instead – posing as Camille – and with the help of Odette, shockingly, starts to do very well. Along the way, she will need to figure out her priorities, and her friendship with Victor will be tested.
Seriously, there are few clichés that Ballerina doesn’t trot out throughout its runtime: The cruel rich woman out to crush the orphan. That woman’s daughter who seems cruel, but will learn the error of her ways. The wise mentor, who at first appears normal, before their tragic backstory is revealed (in this case, that backstory is literally a one line throwaway, and makes little sense). The domineering teacher who will eventually be won over. The boy in love with the lead, who views him as a friend. The new romantic interest who is really an ass. The lead first messing up their priorities before the big audition, but then getting a likely second chance. etc. The movie feels like it was written on autopilot.
That doesn’t have to be such a bad thing – after all, this is a movie aimed at kids, and in broad outlines, many of even the best kids movies seem like little else than a collection of clichés. Unfortunately, there’s little else to recommend the film either. The animation isn’t bad per se – but I do think you could argue that the shows on Disney Jr. (Sofia the First, Elena of Avalor, etc) all feature better animation than this movie does. The movie has a few nice dances sequences – thankfully – but other than that, the animation doesn’t really grab you. The characters are of the cookie cutter variety – defined broadly by one trait, and then put on repeat.