Interesting circumstances surround the US release of Leap! This animated Canadian-French co-production originally debuted as Ballerina back in December, raking a modest profit internationally and receiving a positive overall response, averaging 73% on Rotten Tomatoes. Leap! came out in mid-late August under The Weinstein Company with a new title but should otherwise be the same film. It’s currently averaging about 18% on RT. What gives?
Basically, The Weinstein Company gave Ballerina the same treatment 4kids gives to most anime: they made completely unnecessary edits that actually diminish the artist’s intended vision. And I say unnecessary with added emphasis because the film was already in English. All The Weinstein Company did was jam in about 50% extra “filler” dialogue, change a few voice actors for no reason and adjust a few lines that noticeably dull the film. It’s really sad, because Ballerina is not a terrible film, but Leap! makes it feel like one.
Ballerina is a conflicting film for me. It’s got all the right elements but it’s also poorly done, leaving me with a love/hate relationship. I’m not impressed by most of the animation, in which basic actions are handled stiffly and without solid weight; on the other hand, I love the ballet animation with all its grace and precision, clearly well researched. The story structure is banal, lacking unique presentation and not really offering anything noteworthy; on the other hand, the story itself is refreshing, an advantage given to a film with subject matter almost completely untouched in animation. Most of the characters are miserably one-dimensional and extremely annoying, but the main few--Felicie, Odette and Merante--are sturdily written and pull enough weight to keep the film functional. There are innumerable pointless and/or wasted elements in this movie, but right next to them are a few truly solid ones front and center.
In a word, I describe Ballerina as frustrating. Not because it’s a terrible movie (though, it’s not great either) but because it so clearly yearns to be special. It bands with my other frustrating films, Blue Sky’s Epic and Shane Acker’s feature film 9, under one common flag: amazing potential, completely unfulfilled. At every turn, Ballerina feels like a passion project made by amateurs and reveals all the signs of one. It’s ardent, but clumsy. I would give it a reasonable 2.5 out of 5, a film with plenty of charm but lots of room for improvement.
Leap!, however, is aggravating. It’s the same movie, sure, but the changes are so intrusive I was beyond repulsed. I almost considered asking for a refund; this is not the movie I paid for. The additional dialogue either oversimplifies the film--destroying visual subtlety--or thrusts jokes where they aren’t needed. The adjusted lines diminish the impact of certain key scenes, and the new voice actors are generally worse for their characters, and occasionally a bit offensive (most side characters shifted from “French” to “Stereotypical French”).
If you’re remotely interested, go chase down Ballerina. It’s not amazing, but it’s loaded with passion and charm. I suppose you could still see Leap! and get...enough of the experience, but I don’t think it’s worth supporting such a tarnished performance.