If you have a little girl who loves to dance, take her to see “Leap.” 

This animated adventure is about an 11-year-old girl who becomes a ballerina in Paris during the late 1800s. It’s a captivating and high-spirited film that encourages children to pursue their dreams, even in the midst of difficult circumstances. 

I attended an advance screening of the film with a 4-year-old girl and her grandmother.  We liked the film and had tears in our eyes as it ended. Yes, happy tears, because the movie has a happy ending. The film held the attention of the 4-year-old, who is a preschooler. She couldn’t completely follow the plot of the film, but she loved the ballet dancing, costumes and music. She also liked how the film’s main character is very passionate about ballet and works hard to make her dreams a reality. 

But this isn’t just a film for girls. There’s also a 11-year old boy who becomes a hero in the movie. The intended audience is probably girls in elementary school, but they could easily bring along their little brother. (No need for little bro to stay home and miss all the fun!) It’s a toss-up as to whether or not other boys would want to see this film. If they are interested in ballet, then yes. Otherwise, probably not.

The story begins at a Catholic orphanage, run by nuns and an overbearing caretaker (voiced by Mel Brooks.) To escape the drudgery of daily chores, 11-year-old Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and her best friend Victor (voiced by Nat Wolff) dance on tops of the tables in the dining hall, when no one else is around. They dream of a better life. Félicie wants to be a ballet dancer, and Victor dreams of being an inventor.

While everyone is asleep, Victor and Félicie make their escape. They run away and jump aboard a train to Paris. Sadly, they soon become separated. Victor becomes an office boy for Gustave Eiffel, the architect who is building the Eiffel Tower in 1889 for the Universal Exposition in Paris, as well as the Statue of Liberty, which France plans on giving to America.

Félicie wanders the streets of Paris and stumbles upon the Opera Ballet School. She is almost arrested for trespassing, when she befriends a mysterious female janitor named Odette (voiced by Carly Rae Jepsen.) Odette, who walks with a limp, agrees to let Félicie stay with her.

Professionally, Odette works for a wealthy restaurant owner named Mrs. Régine Le Haut (voiced by Julie Khaner). While helping Odette clean, Félicie spies on Regine's daughter, Camille (voiced by Maddie Ziegler), who is practicing her ballet. Lies and deception come into play, but will Félicie overcome them to fulfill her dream?

Overall, the ballet dancing in "Leap" is spectacular. The computer-generated imagery (CGI) was created with actual ballet dancers. The filmmakers used the key frame animation of Aurélie Dupont and Jérémie Bélingard, both famous dancers from the Paris Opera Ballet, to bring realistic dance choreography to the animated film.

The architectural realism of Leap is impressive too. The filmmakers also take you back in time, into the late 1800s, with true-to-the-era landscaping and set design. With an impeccable eye for detail, the filmmakers recreate the structure of 1800s Paris, including the Opera Ballet School. The filmmakers spent considerable time researching the history and architecture, in order to realistically portray it onscreen.

Appropriateness for children

"Leap" is a good fit for girls in elementary school. Some children might be frightened by the movie’s villain, however.  As the story progresses, it’s revealed that becoming a ballerina is not really Camille Le Haut’s dream—it’s her mother’s dream.  Yes, Mrs. Regine Le Haut is obsessed with her daughter’s success and wants to destroy Félicie. She is consumed with hatred and seeks revenge. There is a brief scene where Mrs. Le Haut chases Félicie and attempts to take her life. 

On a personal note, the preschool girl who watched the movie with me was uneasy about the villainous Mrs. Le Haut, but quickly forgot about this as justice prevails and Félicie and Victor save the day.

As a heads-up, "Leap" includes some romance, albeit innocent. Victor has feelings for Félicie, and they exchange a couple of kisses on the cheek. Scenes take place in pubs/taverns where adults are drinking alcohol and smoking. There is no foul language (except for a few insults) and jokes about bad breath, body odor, farts and pee. Overall, "Leap" should spark positive conversations about perseverance, ballet, Paris, and the origins of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty.

"Leap" is rated PG for some impolite humor, mild violence and dramatic action. It is now playing in theaters nationwide.


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