A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Leo da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa is an animated adventure that portrays the famous painter/inventor as a young adult. Da Vinci (voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch) uses his genius to help his crush get money after her family's farm is destroyed (their romance, including a kiss, is part of the story). Since this is a historical piece, young children may not understand that contraptions like a cart that moves itself, a primitive plane, a parachute, and an underwater breathing apparatus were revolutionary for the time -- but the idea that STEM inventions are fun/cool/smart is clear. The movie also serves as an introduction to some of da Vinci's most famous artworks: the Mona Lisa and Vitruvian Man (without the nudity). While there's no actual violence, peril is frequent, and the scare factor from sharks, sword-wielding (and evil-laughing) pirates, and creepy sunken ships could worry younger or more sensitive kids. But tension is always quickly broken, sometimes with a quick musical number. One moment that may need a "don't try this at home" warning: A pirate extinguishes a large match by sticking it in his mouth and exhaling a fat vape-like cloud of smoke.
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What's the story?
In LEO DA VINCI: MISSION MONA LISA, when his friend Lisa's farm is destroyed in a fire, a young Leonardo da Vinci (voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch) puts his inventions to use to find a lost, underwater treasure to help her family. When he discovers pirates are after the same treasure -- and after him to secure it -- Leo must use his ingenuity to save himself and his friends.
Is it any good?
Making the original Renaissance man into a STEM-oriented action hero is a great idea, but this film's amateurish computer graphics defeat the purpose of celebrating one of history's greatest artists. Leonardo da Vinci's right brain worked as hard as his left, but Leo da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa doesn't come close to giving kids a real appreciation for how sharp he really was. Still, it serves as an introduction to him, his ideas, and his works. When the pirates realize that young da Vinci's underwater breathing gear is the only way to recover sunken treasure, kids can see an exciting application for an invention: searching for lost booty while fighting a menacing villain who might as well be called Captain Hook.
The writing is a notch below so-so, though it's possibly still enough to captivate early elementary viewers. But what may squash that is the rudimentary animation, which looks like a Disney Junior show mixed with How to Train Your Dragon, only far less sophisticated. The result is that the material is best suited for tweens, but the animation will appeal more to littler kids. And, parents, it will be a challenge for you not to drift off to sleep ... or your phone. Mission Mona Lisa is a fail, but great inventors know that failure is a step toward success. The title indicates that more Leo movies might be in the works, and da Vinci himself would likely say to keep the ideas coming.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about who Leonardo da Vinci was and how his skill set included art, invention, engineering, architecture, science, and math. Which of his real inventions did you spot in the film?
How do the characters act on their compassion for Lisa? For Agnes?
Did any parts of Leo da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa scare you? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
How does curiosity fuel invention? What do you think could be accomplished that isn't currently a reality? Innovation also stems from problem-solving. What's something that frustrates you and what could be invented to solve it?
- In theaters: August 2, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: November 29, 2019
- Cast: Johnny Bosch, Cherami Leigh, Bryce Papenbrook
- Director: Sergio Manfio
- Studio: Ammo Content
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: STEM, Adventures, Great Boy Role Models
- Run time: 81 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: November 11, 2020
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