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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Leap! is an animated movie set in 1879 Paris, where tween best friends/orphans Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff) each work to make their dreams come true (dancing and inventing, respectively). They escape to Paris from a strict orphanage in Brittany and face some challenging situations -- like navigating the streets of a major city to find shelter and opportunity and having to flee from angry adults who mean them harm (one wants to catch them, another wants to hurt and even kill Felicie). Felicie pretends to be someone she's not, there's ridicule from a fellow tween, and characters experience lots of physical comedy/injuries played for humor. Expect a little romance: It's made clear that a boy has feelings for a girl, and there are a couple of kisses on the cheek (one involving tweens, the other adults) and mentions of girlfriends/boyfriends and dating. Scenes take place in pubs/taverns where adults are drinking. Language is limited to insults like "nothing," "rat," "beggar," and some scatological jokes about bad breath, farts, and pee. The story should spark positive conversations about talent requiring perseverance and dedication, ballet, Paris, and the origins of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.
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What's the story?
Set in 1879 France, LEAP! follows best friends Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and Victor (Nat Wolff), who escape their stifling orphanage in Brittany for Paris, where they hope to make their dreams a reality. For Felicie, that's becoming a dancer; for Victor, it's becoming an inventor. After finding her way to the Grand Opera House, Felicie ends up begging custodian Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) for a job as a servant's assistant at the mansion of wealthy arts patron Regine (Kate McKinnon). When Regine's mean-girl daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler) is invited to join the Opera's prestigious Ballet School, Felicie decides to borrow Camille's identity and take the spot instead. Felicie eventually turns to Odette, who was once a brilliant ballerina before an injury cut her career short, for training in order to secure an audition for a starring role in The Nutcracker. Meanwhile, Victor snags an entry-level position in the workshop of Gustav Eiffel.
Is it any good?
This animated ballet story is partly inspiring and partly confounding, with missteps (like unnecessary romance) that could have been fixed had the tween protagonists been a couple of years older. Felicie isn't always particularly likable or laudable (she does steal someone's identity to fake her way into a prestigious ballet school, despite not having even basic dance training), but she is persistent and willing to do the work. While it's still utterly unbelievable that someone could learn enough classical ballet to defeat an entire class of 11-year-old girls who've been dancing for years, at least she ultimately has to face consequences for her actions and prove she's really got the goods.
Fanning is nicely enthusiastic as Felicie, and Wolff does a good job with Victor, the clever, eager-to-please/impress best friend. And Jepsen (whose speaking voice sounds a bit like Idina Menzel's) believably embodies the stern but encouraging Odette, Felicie's ballet mentor/instructor. With themes familiar from The Karate Kid (jump up and ring the bell) and even Titanic (especially an odd, slightly off-putting love triangle, a sequence in which Felicie dances Irish jig-style in a pub, and a moment when a cute boy declares they're "on top of the world"), the story feels a little "old" to revolve around an 11-year-old character.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about desire and enthusiasm vs. hard work and talent. What's the difference? What does Felicie learn about dancing in Leap!?
What do you think about Felicie's decision to steal Camille's identity? Is it justified? What were the consequences?
Why is there a difference between doing an activity because you love it and doing it because it's expected of you? How did that show in the ballerinas?
Does the movie make you want to learn more about ballet, Paris, or Gustav Eiffel?
- In theaters: August 25, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: November 21, 2017
- Cast: Elle Fanning, Nat Wolff, Carly Rae Jepsen
- Directors: Eric Warin, Eric Summer
- Studio: The Weinstein Company
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Arts and Dance, History
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 89 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some impolite humor, and action
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