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Animated 'Leap!' is upstaged by its clunky story
Flicie (voice of Elle Fanning) and Victor (voice of Nat Wolff) in "Leap!" - photo by Josh Terry
"LEAP!" 2 stars Voices of Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepsen, Maddie Ziegler; PG (some impolite humor and action); in general release

Leap! is a well-intended piece of inspiration animation whose parts just cant come together into a worthy whole.

Directors Eric Summer and Eric Warins film tells the story of an underdog orphan who sneaks into a Paris ballet school in the late 19th century. Felicie (voiced by Elle Fanning) is a girl whose mother left her with a music box and a dream to dance. With the help of her aspiring inventor friend Victor (Dane DeHaan), she manages to flee her orphanage and make it to Paris, where she finds shelter and employment with a humble caretaker named Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen).

Odette works for a notorious woman named Regine (Kate McKinnon), who looks and acts like someones wicked stepmother, even though her notoriety comes from serving local customers the best prime rib in town. Her daughter Camille (Maddie Ziegler) is every bit the monster-in-training but, like Felicie, she also has aspirations to make it as a ballerina. So when Camilles official invitation inadvertently finds its way into Felicies hands, Felicie takes the position herself, claiming to be Camille.

This almost-but-not-quite justifiable piece of deception gets Felicie into the school, where she realizes she has a lot of work to do if shes going to compete with the other girls to be cast in a new production of The Nutcracker. She also has to deal with the local dreamboat, a blond Russian dancer named Rudy (Tamir Kapelian) who is everything her wacky inventor buddy Victor who has taken a job working on the Statue of Liberty isnt.

Leap! has enough highlights to keep you pulling for it, like a funny sequence that creatively sums up a crazy night for Victor, and an early inspiring moment when Felicie first sees her favorite dancer Rosita (Elana Dunkelman) performing on stage.

But Leap! also suffers from a harried and linear plot that has a habit of injecting obstacles for the sake of conflict then rushing past them to get Felicie to the next part of the story. Regine and Camille eventually catch on to Felicies scheme, and Felicie even has to face her old nemesis Luteau (Mel Brooks), who worked at her orphanage. But none of these confrontations carry any serious weight; even the orphanage at the beginning of the film feels like a quick pit stop that is vacated before any narrative weight can be applied.

"Leap!" also tries to blend 21st-century pop music and style cues into its late 19th-century setting, which clash against the classical selections on the soundtrack and, at one point, culminate in a bizarre ballet dance-off.

Summer and Warins effort clearly wants to inspire children to chase their dreams and overcome their obstacles, and it does have its moments of poignancy. But it also suffers from a narrative that seems to demand instant gratification as intensely as its potential audience.

The final product just isnt strong enough to share the stage with the kind of animated heavyweights that will justify movie tickets for all the kids. Leap! may have enough things going for it to justify a Redbox rental or a peek on Netflix, but it trips over itself too often to recommend a night out for the whole family.

"Leap!" is rated PG for some impolite humor and action; running time: 89 minutes.