“Leap!” is the kind of movie where if you see someone holding a stack of dishes, they will certainly break in the name of a lazy comedic moment.
There seem to be two jobs classifications among the characters in this film: floor scrubber or being a full-time evil schemer. Historical accuracy? A character from the late 1800s wears jeans shorts, while witnessing the simultaneous construction of the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty.
The Canada-produced film has an appealing core — a sort of animated ballet version of “The Karate Kid,” with a student and teacher who are easy to like. But every other part of the movie seems to be working in concert to sabotage the effort.
Example: “Leap!” is a film set mostly at the Paris Opera Ballet, with young dancers trying out for “The Nutcracker.” But the entire soundtrack is slathered with tween-friendly 21st Century pop music better served for a Disney cruise. The movie takes place in the 19th century and still can’t restrain itself from an M.C. Hammer pop culture reference in the script.
“Leap!” begins horribly, with a mash-up of flatulence jokes and rote slapstick, as 11-year-old French dancer Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) and inventor Victor (Dane DeHaan) attempt to escape from their orphanage. The tired planning and witless action scenes only highlight the cut-rate animation and lack of new ideas coming from a trio of screenwriters.
But once the pair arrives in Paris, the film sharply pivots. Annoying comic relief Victor all but disappears, and Felicie finds the best thing in the film: a hobbled but wise house cleaner named Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen). The girl and her mentor clash, then find themselves working together, trying to rise above their station during a time of extreme marginalization of the poor.
It’s remarkable how much better “Leap!” is during these middle-of-the-movie scenes. The squalor and oppression of the time add real stakes, and the combination of a young girl and ballet themes helps mask the fact that almost every sequence is borrowed from a better sports movie. Directors Eric Summer and Eric Warin film the more artistic parts with a live action sensibility, elevating the drama while affectionately portraying Felicie’s continued love of dance, even as she suffers for her art.
But even the moments of grace are eventually stained, by the bodily functions humor and flurry of pratfalls that are always around the corner. “Leap!” ends with a chase scene that feels as if it’s two hours long, even though the entire film is 89 minutes.
Rated: PG for some impolite humor, action. Voices: Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan and Carly Rae Jepsen. Directors: Eric Summer, Eric Warin. Running time: 89 minutes. Theaters: Edwards 21, Edwards 9, Edwards 14, Majestic 18, Village Cinema, Terrace Drive-In.