I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
Ballet. It’s not that difficult, Anyone can dance ballet — I’m talking world-class ballet, not gradeschoolers twirling in tutus — as long as they really really want to. Everyone knows this.
That’s why it’s so easy for Felicie (the voice of Elle Fanning: The Beguiled, Live by Night), a tween orphan in late 1880s France who runs away to a Disney-esque Parisland, to lie and cheat her way into a ballet school at the prestigious Paris Opera, get cast in a production of The Nutcracker, and perform without benefit of a single rehearsal. At the Paris Opera, one of the preeminent ballet companies on the planet. Anyone could manage it. If you’ve got heart, of course. Ya gotta have heart. Who needs years of practice when you’ve got passion?
Soaring 21st-century pop songs will celebrate Felicie’s “triumphs” at every step along the way. She is following her bliss! She wanted it hard enough! She’s “gonna be somebody,” the obnoxiously aggressive soundtrack cries. Nothing else matters! Not integrity or honest, that’s for sure. Anyway, it was mean girl Camille (the voice of Maddie Ziegler), a nasty spoiled rich kid, whose spot at the school Felicie stole, so it’s all good, right?
Did I mention that Felicie is a terrible dancer who hasn’t got the first idea what ballet — or any kind of dance — involves, yet she keeps getting second and third chances to “prove” herself? If I had to reach to find something positive to say about Ballerina (aka in the USLeap!) — and I do have to reach — it would be this: Boys have gotten to see their mediocre peers succeed onscreen since forever, have seen them getting second and third chances too many times to count. Now mediocre girls have the opportunity to get reinforcement of their wild, unrealistic ambitions, and reassurance that they won’t have to work much, or at all, to achieve them. Those girls will of course be terribly disappointed when life does not hand them everything they wish for, just because they wished for it, but hey: Progress! Shall we look forward to, 20 years from now, a generation of petulant, privileged dude-gals — and a better term for them — who’ve been trained to expect success to be handed to them on a silver platter, and who take to the streets carrying tiki torches to rage when that doesn’t happen? If this movie is indicative of the start of a trend (which I desperately hope it is not), we just may.
This cheesy French/Canadian ballerina-porn cartoon doesn’t only feature the worst possible message for any little girl (or boy) who dreams of the physically demanding life wearing the tutu. It also employs animation that resembles mid-2000s videogames, and is rife with corny “humor” — including fart jokes, crotch injuries, and incongruous slapstick — and cringeworthy dialogue. It’s also wildly anachronistic in ways that are baffling and appear to serve no purpose. When Felicie and her inventor friend Victor (the voice of Dane DeHaan*: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, A Cure for Wellness) arrive in Paris, the first thing they see is the Eiffel Tower under construction, and the precise height of the tower at this point sets this squarely in early 1888. (Some materials for press say the movie is set in 1884.) Yet Felicie runs around Paris — in public! — wearing little denim shorts, which didn’t exist yet and even if they had, no girl would have dared to wear such a thing. The Nutcracker didn’t premiere until 1892, in Russia, and was a flop; no one would have been producing it, and anyway, it didn’t debut in Western countries until the 1940s(!). (The ballet costumes also seem to hail from a much later date.) Gramophone recordings of music from the ballet would certainly not have been available in Paris, nor would the sort of gramophone we see here. Via Victor’s job at the studio of Tower designer Gustav Eiffel, we see pieces of his other most famous work: the Statue of Liberty, under construction… even though its parts were already in New York at this point, and which certainly had not yet turned green from oxidation of its copper skin! (That wouldn’t happen until the early 20th century.) There’s an appearance by a motorcycle that appears to date from the WWI era. (Wait a second! Is Victor a much better inventor than his klutzy stupidity lets on? Has he built a time machine?)
The laziness of the writing here is at least as appalling as the bungled follow-your-dream message. There’s no reason why this story couldn’t have been set at a later date, and still been just as horrific, just as squirm-inducingly terrible. I’m not sure which is worse: my suspicions that the anachronisms are the accidental product of ignorant writers — director Éric Summer, a French TV veteran, with Carol Noble and Laurent Zeitoun, the latter of whom wrote the dreadful A Perfect Plan — or my other suspicion, which is that they are deliberate, to create a feeling of, I dunno, magic or something. (If so, the movie utterly fails at this.) Or so that, perhaps, there can be a chase sequence up and around the Statue’s bits and pieces. An action sequence in a movie about a little girl dreaming of being a dancer? Sure, that’s always a part of ballet’s artistic process.
*I saw the European version of the film, which is titled ‘Ballerina’ (and still in the English language). DeHaan is replaced in the American version, the one with the title ‘Leap!’, by Nat Wolff. Other new voices in the US version are Kate McKinnon and Mel Brooks, in supporting roles. I do not imagine even these enormous talents improve the film at all.
UPDATE: I’m told by the US publicist that there are “significant differences” between the international version of Ballerina and the US version, Leap! I’ll be checking that out and reporting back as soon as possible.