The Other Side of Animation 109: Leap! Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

Well, we are going to be doing something I thought I would never get to do. Since The Weinstein Company is going belly-up, because of the two brothers being walking pieces of garbage who did horrible things (to put it lightly), I am going to be reviewing their last two animated films. I was planning on blacklisting them after Leap! and Guardian Brothers due to their actions, but now I technically don’t have to. I have made an editorial in the past about how horrible they are with animated films, and I think they were the worst distributors. They don’t respect the medium, and end up spending money on films by either needlessly editing the film or recasting the actors. To honor the closing of the massive studio (sorry to everyone losing their jobs because of the two running the company), let’s look at what will possibly be considered their “best” film, Leap! Also known as Ballerina, Leap! was a CGI animated film collaboration between France and Canada, and was directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin. While it had a fairly small budget for a CGI-animated film at $30, it was a financial hit in theaters, making $130+ million. Unfortunately, once it hit the states, it pretty much came and went. I did see some ads for it, but not much else. I’m guessing it didn’t do well over here stateside, and what possibly caused Guardian Brothers to be put directly onto Netflix without a heads-up to anyone. So, how damaged is Leap!? Is it possibly their “best” movie, or is it right up there with their release of Doogal? Let’s check it out.

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The story follows an orphan girl named Felicie Milliner, voiced by Elle Fanning. She lives at an orphanage with her friend Victor, voiced by Dane DeHaan in the UK version and Nat Wolff in the US version. She dreams of one day becoming a famous ballet dancer and Victor wants to be a famous inventor. They escape the orphanage and the hands of the supervisor of the orphanage, played by Mel Brooks in the US version, and head to France! Felicie tries to get into the dancing school that she saw in a picture, but gets thrown out. She meets up with the cleaning woman of the dance school named Odette, who is played by Carly Rae Jepsen. Can Felicie end up being a great ballerina? Or will she be caught and tossed back into the orphanage?

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I remember when I first saw the British version of this film, I did not like it. I thought the film was generic, annoying, and just not very good. I was floored by how many people said they actually liked the movie. Looking back at my thoughts after seeing both versions, and seeing how much worse animated films got this year, I was probably harsh on it. That’s why I’m going to start with the good. For an animated film with $30 mil to its production budget, it doesn’t look that bad. It has its moments and bits of animation that show that it has a lesser budget than most mainstream-animated films, but it did have pretty good movements and solid overall visuals for a foreign collaboration. Even the designs have a pretty charming look to them. Granted, I know there are pictures all over the net where the characters look horrifying, and yeah, that is a problem at certain points in the movie, but for what you usually get with foreign CGI, it’s better than most CGI animated films. Everything is so lush. France is both beautiful and grimy, the countrysides look green and vibrant, and any time when the characters are doing serious ballet dancing, it’s fun to watch, due to the combination of everything. The characters are also likable. They aren’t unique in any way, but I found myself paying attention to the story arcs of the individual characters. Well, most of them I was invested into. Sure, you have your cheery-eyed lead, the stern teacher, the mentor who has a past, the rival classmate, the quirky male cohort, and so on, but at least you want to see the lead succeed in her dancing.

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Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. How does the Weinstein version compare to the British/UK version? Well, out of all the times I have watched a Weinstein-distributed animated film, for one reason or another, Leap! was not completely damaged by Weinstein’s infamous shenanigans with animated films. There are additional lines, and yes, some of them are eye-rolling, but they are not terrible additions. The added lines only appeared when the mouths couldn’t be seen. I still don’t get why they replaced some of the actors, since they weren’t going to reel in anyone, but for what it is worth, they are decent choices. I was surprised by Mel Brooks’ performance, because of how distinct his voice is. This isn’t one of his best performances, but he was not the most annoying part of the film. It’s like he was actually trying. Some voices that were left in the original dub were, and still are, super annoying at times, but the overall dubs of both versions are tolerable.

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Unfortunately, that is all the kindness I have for this film. It’s time to talk about the bad aspects of it. While it is pretty harmless, Leap! is very predictable, and I knew what was going to happen, and while I was interested in the lead’s goal of being a great dancer, the story simply doesn’t go in any interesting or unique directions. It doesn’t help that the characters she interacts with are generic, forgettable, or grating. I’m sorry, but unless someone convinces me otherwise, Nat Wolff is not good in this. Granted, I don’t know how you make the character he plays entertaining, but he was almost on the level of some of this year’s most annoying side characters. I found the last-minute villain to be way too over-the-top. It’s this mother of the rival student, and she basically resorts to murdering the lead and her friend, because her daughter couldn’t get the big lead role. It felt out of place, and I was laughing more than engaged, due to her actions. Like I said above, sometimes the animation shows its budget, and sometimes the animation does not look good. At the very least, it’s with the facial animation. I also wasn’t laughing at the jokes that were popping up in the film. They were very basic, and due to them not really working, it took me out of the experience.

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In the end, Leap! is a harmless film. It’s not the worst, but it’s not a great film either. However, I can take a wild bet a lot of young girls would love this movie. I think I would rather show them something like Moana, Princess and the Frog, or Zootopia first, but I can imagine worst movies to show to young girls. But since this is under The Weinstein label, I suggest avoiding it at all cost. Maybe if it pops up for free on Amazon Prime or Netflix, check it out, but there are so many more movies with strong female protagonists that are out there. Well, now that we got this one out of the way, it’s time we go to what will be Weinstein’s last animated feature that you probably never knew existed with Guardian Brothers. Thanks for reading, I hope you liked it, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Lackluster!

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Is The Weinstein Company the Worst Animation Distributor?

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)

Last year, I wrote an editorial calling out Lionsgate as the worst animation distributors in Hollywood. I still stand by that opinion that they are one of, if not the worst distributors of the animated film scene. Lionsgate is to animation distribution as Central Park Media was to anime distribution, where they chose quantity over quality, and forever stained their reputation. Sure, both companies might have a bright spot here and there, but 99.9% of the time, there was just pure garbage in their library. However, I have come to realize that there are plenty of bad animation distributors that are terrible in many different ways. Like I said above, Lionsgate is bad because they choose to bring over whatever, without thinking that it might look questionable that they bring over low-budget title after low-budget title without thinking if it’s of any high quality. Today though, we are looking at The Weinstein Company.

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While they may have plenty of high quality live-action films under their belt like Lionsgate does, their presence in the animation scene can be seen as just as bad as Lionsgate, or by some people worse. And to be honest, I agree. Let’s talk about what makes them one of the worst distributors of animated films.

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Since I can’t just retread comparing them to GKids once again, let’s take a look at their history of distributing animated films. Luckily, they have a much smaller library of films than Lionsgate, since they didn’t go for the “let’s buy any cheap animated film we can and shove a bunch of YouTube stars and C list celebrities into them” strategy. Unfortunately, what they have chosen for their small lineup of animated features doesn’t at all scream of quality. Instead of going the route of GKids or Shout! Factory by choosing pristine titles that deserve it, The Weinstein Company does hand-pick their titles, but I wouldn’t call them classics. Their lineup of titles include The Magical Roundabout, or as it’s also known as Doogal, Underdogs, the upcoming Leap!, Arthur and the Land of the Invisibles, Hoodwinked, Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil, TMNT, and Escape from Planet Earth. Yeah, that’s not a stellar lineup. Sure, you could argue films like Hoodwinked, at the very least, had a style and personality to it, and Azur & Asmar: The Prince’s Quest is visually beautiful, but that doesn’t really help or save their lineup.

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So, like a lot of companies, they distributed some terrible movies, but what makes them exactly the worst? I’m sure you guys are wondering that, since I haven’t really brought that up. Well, if you look at the reviews for Underdogs, Escape from Planet Earth, Doogal, and Arthur, you see that they are some of the worst reviewed films, in terms of animation. What exactly happened? The Weinsteins have a very notorious reputation of editing, cutting out, and recasting the films they bring over. You know all of those obnoxious pop culture references, pointless celebrities, and bad jokes in Doogal? Yeah, the original didn’t have a lot of them. Does Arthur and the Land of the Invisibles seem very choppy and annoying? The original wasn’t like that. Why does Leap! have recasted actors for minor or lead roles? Are you catching what I’m throwing right now? Instead of spending money and marketing on the film itself, they tend to hire a bunch of celebrities to redub lines, voice characters who didn’t talk in the original, and taking out any of the charm the original films may have had. It’s like they really didn’t care what they were doing, spent money for changes that didn’t need to be made, and then realized that they invested a bunch of cash into these films, knowing they will not make it back.

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That’s probably the worst part. I always think that they realize that they have yet another project that will not be reviewed well, won’t make them money, and secretly toss it into release date limbo, and then quietly release it onto Netflix without anyone knowing. Luckily, I am one of those people that find out about films like the ones they release, and make sure to remind people that they chose to distribute these films. Why would they go through the trouble of getting the rights, spending money on unnecessary changes, and then pull out and quietly take the loss?

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What would I change about their tactics? I would change everything. If you are going to bring over animated films, bring over ones people actually want to watch. If the film already has an English dub, then don’t recast and waste more money on new actors. If you think about cutting and editing a film for some unknown reason, then take Hayao Miyazaki’s advice when you thought about cutting and editing Princess Mononoke, and don’t. If you honestly don’t want to put it in theaters because it will make you look bad and it won’t perform well, then put it straight to DVD, and people will instantly forget about it. That way, you don’t set off a bunch of red flags and alarm sounds, when you keep moving release dates for the movie. Also, if they aren’t so committed to helping get animation from overseas here in the states, then why bother? Why not just focus on the films you obviously put more effort put into them? It’s obvious that they have never made money on their animated films.

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So, is The Weinstein Company the worst animation distributor? Well, they are really bad, but for entirely different reasons than Lionsgate or Open Road Films. While Lionsgate is bad because they will literally bring over or pick up anything, The Weinstein Company is bad because they will pick up a film, do an insane amount of editing, recasting, redubbing, and so forth to films that end up as worse for wear. Instead of picking the right projects like Sony Pictures Classics and GKids, they pick up films that are already middle-of-the-road or bottom-of-the-barrel, and make them worse. I think the only film I can suggest seeing from their library of animation is Azur & Asmar, but be prepared to watch it in French, and look at some stiff animation. Even then, GKids helped with that film, so I wouldn’t really call it a Weinstein Company film. Who knows how they will handle Leap!, but I am sure if you don’t see it get even a limited release, then they don’t care, and are, once again, ashamed that they put money into such a terrible movie.