3 stars

Aw, go ahead and “Leap!” into this French film that has a definite European feel with its artistic animation, stylized characters and lush backgrounds.

Obviously, the title is a play on words, because the theme of the movie is taking a leap of faith to pursue one’s dreams.

An orphan girl named Félicie (voice of Elle Fanning) wants to become a ballerina in Paris (in fact, the movie was called “Ballerina” in its European incarnation.)

Despite the watchful eye of the Brittany orphanage’s guardian Luteau (Mel Brooks) Félicie runs away from the country orphanage with a Victor (Nat Wolff), who wants to create a device that will allow him to fly -- he also dreams of Paris. They do indeed make it there together, and Félicie soon finds herself at a prestigious ballet school where she instantly runs afoul of Camille (Maddie Ziegler) who is being trained to be a star.

Camille is so cruel that it’s maddening. She’s a terrific villain, egged on by her snooty mother Regine (a wonderful Kate McKinnon). So we don’t mind when Félicie takes Camille’s identity so that she can be part of the dancing class.

Félicie meets a Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen – and yes, you’ll hear her sing), a downtrodden cleaning woman with a secret who helps Félicie and encourages the girl to dance. She also becomes Félicie’s dance instructor.

The film was produced at L'Atelier Animation in Montreal, Canada, and it has a far different look than other animation shown in United States theaters. I like its painterly appearance. The 1880s era in which the story is set, with both the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty shown to be under construction, lends itself to charming landscapes and cityscapes.

Sometimes, the story stoops to vulgar humor, which is unnecessary and irritating. We don’t more flatulence jokes, for crying out loud. We need fewer of them. But most of the time it stays on course with class and verve.

At the core of the plot are relationships that feel real and sweet, including a kind of love triangle between Félicie, Victor and a hot-shot male dancer. Especially endearing is the the friendship between Odette and Félicie.

And what better way to settle a rivalry than a public dance-off?

The music is great fun, with tunes by Jepsen and Demi Lovato, along with the familiar strains of “Swan Lake.”

This truly is fare that is suited to families. Regardless of your age, who doesn’t appreciate a message about following your dreams?

At Rave, Davenport; Regal, Moline; and Palms 10, Muscatine.

Running time: One hour and 30 minutes.

Rated: PG for coarse humor and mild violence.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church