We've seen quite an interesting bunch of animated films hit theaters over the course of 2017, and if I were to rank where Leap! comes in on the scale of good to bad, it would be hard to even know where to place it. It's certainly not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not an offensively horrible one either. At best, Leap! is a lazy but good natured attempt to inspire children to follow their dreams, and work hard. At worst, it's a film that doesn't even earn the punctuation it forces upon its audience.
Felicie (Elle Fanning) wants to be a dancer, Victor (Nat Wolff) wants to be an inventor, and Paris is the place to be for these two dreaming orphans. After a daring escape, both of these wide-eyed children find themselves in the City of Lights, chasing their dreams. For Felicie, that means masquerading as someone she's not, in order to make it big in a dance program for only the finest ballerinas. If she makes it, she'll have landed a part in Swan Lake. If not, then her deception may be unmasked, leading to trouble beyond anything she's encountered.
Leap! isn't the worst or most crass animated film you'll see this year, as that honor has already been taken by movies that have come before it. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean much for this movie, as it's still a total mess. The story manages to throw in the kitchen sink when it comes to plot, but doesn't bother to connect the dots in any decent fashion. One moment, young Felicie is escaping with her friend Victor to Paris, and the next she ditches him, turning him into a character that only ever shows up when the plot feels it can use him for dramatic effect. If the story had just dropped him entirely, it might have been a bit more stable, thus creating a character we can properly follow. But Leap! Is trying to cover all the bases, acting as a jack of all story threads while mastering none.
As if that wasn't bad enough, there's a rivalry between Felicie and a rival dancer (Maddie Ziegler) that only rears its head to manufacture a rather contrived third act dance battle. Their adversarial games are just barely set up in the first act, only to reappear and culminate in a showdown set to Demi Lovato's "Confident". If the film hadn't managed to stumble into a truly stunning moment of a ballerina dancing to "Swan Lake", this could have possibly been explained away as a moment for the kids. Instead, it only serve to fuel the dissonance that rules Leap! at every twist and turn.
Had Leap! actually applied itself, there could have been a decent, if not well worn, story that could have been told. It makes it even more of a shame that this film wastes the talents of Mel Brooks and Kate McKinnon, who both polish brief moments of this film's turdiness to the point of laughs. Not to mention, it also miscasts the character of Odette, the tragic and broken mentor to Felicie in her dancing quest, with the poppy voice of singing sensation Carly Rae Jepsen. This isn't really a knock on Jepsen herself, as she's game for the role of the grizzled dance vet. But to really sell this character, they should have tweaked the casting just a little bit.
Somehow Leap! manages to be a film that's unique in the subject matter it chooses to tell its story with, but at the same time it's extremely pedestrian in its execution. If your kids are obsessed with dance enough that they can ignore the thin quality of this film, then they just might enjoy Leap! As for parents, or even animation enthusiasts, you're probably going to wonder why they even bothered to put an exclamation point on a dance film that's so lame, its steps pale in comparison to that of a fire escape. The movies title says it all, as it begs you to just take it at face value, without any further thought into the matter. But this is a leap that's just too far to land.