Though abounding in familiar tropes, Leap has the trappings of a good family film – relentlessly fun and remarkably inspirational, with a few good lessons along the way.
Set in nineteenth century France, Leap is the story of two orphans – Felicie and Victor – who dream of escaping their orphanage and pursuing a new life in Paris. Felicie dreams of becoming a dancer, Victor an inventor. Through a hilarious series of shenanigans, the pair does manage to escape, although they are quickly separated after arriving in the city. After being met with the harsh realities of the outside world, Felicie works to climb her way to being a good enough dancer to earn a part in “The Nutcracker.”
But Felicie is hardly a perfect character. Even in the very beginning of the film, she is caught trying to escape without Victor, breaking a solemn pact between the two of them. In other instances, she lies, cheats, or bends the rules, sometimes leaving those she cares about in the dust of her selfish decisions. And yet, in spite of all of this, she remains a character we can root for. This is not a criticism of the film. Her poor behavior is never lauded in the film, amd in fact it’s through her myriad mistakes that we see change taking place in her. The lessons should learns are hard ones, and provide ample discussion points for families viewing the film.
In other, more superficial ways, the film is quite a fun piece of family fare. The animation is nothing deserving of technical praise, and at times appears somewhat low-budget. But the comedy of the film is on point throughout, and is bolstered by a very solid supporting cast. Victor, his friend Mattie, the orphanage master, and the other ballerinas all give their own great moments, a few of them also contributing to a surprising level of character development.
To delve a little deeper, the film is pursuit of the
American (French?) Dream, with emphasis on family and community. While I almost rolled my eyes at the cliche “You’re not my mom!” line, the relationship that Felicie forms with her proxy mother of sorts is moving, and it’s nice to see how the script distinguishes between those who actually care about her and those who are only flattering her. This, too, provides opportunities for conversation as a family.
But the more thought-provoking element is one that isn’t part of the film itself, but of which the film is a part. In Leap, like similarly-themed films, the protagonist is able to reach her nigh-impossible goal mostly through hard work and determination. There’s certainly a side lesson about where her selfish behavior leads, but it is her ambition that forms the true spirit of the film. But is passion and hard work always enough?
The fact that it is, is a core assumption of what we frequently call The American Idea. And yet, we all know of people woth grand dreams that didn’t make the cut. This is not a criticism of the film per se. But it is an acknowledgement that in such narratives, there’s something we lose by everything turning out just so in the end – that in the end, the most important thing in Felicie’s life wasn’t the dancing. It was the relationships.
Thankfully, the film gives us enough to work with that her ambition doesn’t have to be the most important thing we walk away with. It really is a good time at the movies with a beautiful and flawed character who learns some important lessons, even if those lessons are occasionally out of balance.