×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: Elle Fanning in ‘Ballerina’ (‘Leap!’)

Elle Fanning heads up the voice cast of a pleasantly conventional, attractively animated slice of wish-fulfilment for everyone's inner ballerina.

With:
Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler, Terence Scammel, Tamir Kapelian, Julie Khaner, Joe Sheridan, Elena Dunkleman, Soshana Sperling, Jamie Watson, Bronwen Mantel.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2261287/

If your blush-pink daydreams of tutus, pirouettes and adoring spotlights were darkly dashed by the shattered psychological mindwarp of “Black Swan,” take heart: “Ballerina” (AKA “Leap!”) is here to generously restore them. An unabashed wish-fulfilment fantasy that sweetly checks off every conceivable follow-your-heart cliché, this elegantly animated French-Canadian production isn’t inventing any new narrative choreography with its slender tale of Félicie, a plucky, impoverished Brittany orphan who heads to Paris to realize her ambition of joining the ballet. But even if it never quite takes the risks implied by the exclamatory title adopted for its upcoming U.S. release, “Ballerina” follows the established steps with general grace and good humor. Sure to please children of a gentle, fanciful persuasion, Eric Summer and Eric Warin’s film may pleasantly surprise their minders with the painterly CG beauty of its Gallic backdrops; for all our heroine’s efforts, the City of Lights remains the prima ballerina of this particular show.

Already released in numerous territories, the Montreal-made “Ballerina” will undergo a minor makeover for its Stateside release — postponed several times by the Weinstein Company, most recently to Sept. 4. Kate McKinnon, Mel Brooks, and Nat Wolff will be added to the voice cast, the latter needlessly replacing Dane DeHaan, whose disarming voice work as the heroine’s gawky love interest is among the original version’s most appealing assets. Such modifications shouldn’t greatly alter the commercial appeal of a bright tween package already destined for ancillary longevity, even as its anachronistic power-pop soundtrack — heavier on Demi Lovato than Tchaikovsky — passes its sell-by date.

As it is, “Ballerina” is blithely indifferent to time as a general concept. Ostensibly set in the late 19th century, where the Eiffel Tower is under construction while Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) prances about in decidedly millennial jean shorts, it’s also a film that would have you believe that the first through fifth positions in classical ballet can be mastered in a matter of hours. Fair enough: Some pretty big dreams need to come true in the space of just 85 minutes, beginning with a daffy, chicken-abetted escape scheme from the dour rural Catholic orphanage where Félicie and her raggedy, plainly besotted best friend Victor (DeHaan) have been cooped up since infancy.

An enthusiastic dancer in her moments alone, Félicie yearns to polish her amateur footwork at a ballet academy; aviation-obsessed Victor, meanwhile, longs to become an inventor. (In the immediate wake of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” remake, which made a point of Belle’s own inventing aspirations, it’s hard not to note the relative conservatism of gender definitions in “Ballerina,” though at least Félicie is a commendably resourceful, self-motivated heroine.)

Off to Paris, then, where Félicie and Victor each stumble into a mix of waifish hardship and pixie-dusted good fortune: He lands lowly grunt work at the design studio of engineer Gustave Eiffel, while she dupes her way into an intensely competitive elite class at the Paris Opera, where a handful of far more highly trained dancers are auditioning for the lead in a new production of “The Nutcracker” by Simon Cowell-esque maestro Merante (Terence Scammell). Will she prevail? Do a ballerina’s toes bleed? There are no surprises as “Ballerina” hops and skips to its final curtain, but the getting there is mostly rewarding — thanks in large part to the protagonist’s nuanced supporting relationships with the hapless Victor and her melancholic charlady mentor Odette (pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, a surprisingly warm, sympathetic vocal presence).

Away from the serviceable storytelling, “Ballerina” is most effective as a showcase for art director Florent Masurel and Montreal-based animation studio L’Atelier, whose artists pull off a few virtuoso technical coups: in particular, soaring aerial flights across rural France and fin de siècle Paris, both rendered with loving attention to textured architectural detail and shifting shades of golden daylight. If the character design isn’t quite as rich and fluid as the world behind them, it nonetheless stands up to a wealth of more expensively assembled U.S. studio animation.

Only the ballet sequences themselves disappoint, sidestepping opportunities for more inspired, extravagant spectacle — not helped, admittedly, by a disjointed soundtrack undecided between Klaus Badelt’s traditional scoring and a panoply of synthetic pop confections that, while perfectly catchy and crammed with suitably inspirational lyrics, do little to convey Félicie’s artistic inspiration. Played at the stage climax, Jepsen’s bespoke contribution, “Cut to the Feeling,” may be a tasty shot of electro-bubblegum, but just try dancing the Sugar Plum Fairy to it. In this respect, if few others, “Ballerina” moves very much to its own beat.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: Elle Fanning in 'Ballerina' ('Leap!')

Reviewed on DVD, London, March 28, 2017. Running time: 86 MIN. (Original title: "Ballerina")

Production: (Animated — Canada-France) A Weinstein Co. (in U.S.) release of a Gaumont presentation of a Quad, Main Journey, Caramel Films production in co-production with Gaumont, M6 Films. Producers: Laurent Zeitoun, Yann Zenou, Nicolas Duval Adassovsky, Andre Rouleau, Valerie D'Auteuil.

Crew: Directors: Eric Summer, Eric Warin. Screenplay: Summer, Carol Noble, Laurent Zeitoun, based on a story by Summer, Zeitoun. Camera: Jericca Cleland. Editor: Yvann Thibaudeau.

With: Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler, Terence Scammel, Tamir Kapelian, Julie Khaner, Joe Sheridan, Elena Dunkleman, Soshana Sperling, Jamie Watson, Bronwen Mantel.

More Film

  • Lawrence G Paull obit

    'Blade Runner' Production Designer Lawrence Paull Dies at 81

    Lawrence G. Paull, the Oscar-nominated production designer who helped create the distinctive looks of 1980s films including the visually groundbreaking 1982 “Blade Runner.” died on Nov. 10 of heart disease in La Jolla, Calif. He was 81. Paull received an Academy Award nomination for art direction with David L. Snyder for Ridley Scott’s prescient film [...]

  • Justin Timberlake'Trolls' film premiere, Los Angeles,

    Justin Timberlake Returns as a Performer and Producer for 'Trolls World Tour' Soundtrack

    Pop star Justin Timberlake, who earned an Oscar nomination for his contribution to the first “Trolls” movie three years ago, is returning to the franchise as the executive music producer of Dreamworks Animation’s “Trolls World Tour” soundtrack, scheduled for this March. . Assisted by Grammy and Academy Award-winning composer/producer Ludwig Göransson, Timberlake produced, wrote and [...]

  • Leon Bridges Emily Bode Fashion

    New Designers Bring Fresh Perspectives to Red Carpets

    As awards season is gearing up, Variety looks at emerging designers that will make their mark on the many red carpets ahead: Bode For the guys, Emily Bode’s eponymous line of one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted clothing cut from antique fabrics and Victorian quilts has earned a following that includes Donald Glover, Dyllón Burnside, Ezra Miller, Leon Bridges, [...]

  • Alma Harrel Honey Boy

    'Honey Boy' DP Natasha Braier Took Nonfiction Approach to Fiction Feature

    The “Honey Boy” script that cinematographer Natasha Braier read prior to signing on with first-time narrative feature director Alma Har’el to shoot star and writer Shia LaBeouf’s intimate memoir-focused arthouse film was psychologically rich and emotionally fraught with no visual cues. It was a deep character study of the beginnings of his acting career with [...]

  • Queen and Slim

    AFI Fest Puts Nonfiction in the Spotlight

    Documentaries will play a more prominent role than ever before at the AFI Fest, which kicks off Nov. 14. While AFI Fest 2018 featured 15 documentary features playing in various categories, this year’s edition of Los Angeles-based fest will play host to 22 feature docs, 16 of which will screen in the fest’s new documentary [...]

  • Ayesha Curry and Stephen Curry attends

    Ayesha Curry Honored With Variety's Vivant Tastemaker Award at Napa Valley Film Festival

    The rooftop bar at the tony Archer Hotel in the heart of downtown Napa made a stunning backdrop for Variety’s Vivant party on Nov. 13. Vivant was launched at the Napa Valley Film Festival, which opened Nov. 13 with “Just Mercy.”  Variety executive VP of content Steven Gaydos introduced Variety Vivant Tastemaker honoree Ayesha Curry [...]

  • Dwayne Johnson

    Dwayne Johnson's 'Black Adam' Movie Sets Release Date

    Dwayne Johnson’s long-in-development “Black Adam” movie is slated to hit theaters just in time for the holidays. The New Line Cinema film film will debut on Dec. 22, 2021, five days after the release of James Cameron’s long-gestating “Avatar” sequel. Johnson has been attached to play the anti-hero for most of this decade. Jaume Collet-Serra, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content