I was all set. I had this whole thing I was going to do where I complained about how the Weinstein Company took what was self-evidently not a very great film in the form of the French animated film Ballerina, and made it even worse in remolding it for the U.S. market as Leap!, but it turns out that I was wrong. Apparently, the Weinstein version is mostly the English version released in December 2016 in the UK, with Nat Wolff replacing Dane DeHaan in the lead male role, and Mel Brooks and Kate McKinnon called in to voice the assorted villains of the piece. And to be sure, the worst of the worst that the film has to offer clusters around Brooks and McKinnon's characters, where most of the quippy dialogue that feels like it was stuck into the film any place it accidentally left five seconds of silence takes place. Madame Le Haut, the biggest of McKinnon's three parts (initially voiced by Julie Khaner in the UK version, and Françoise Cadol in French), is especially noteworthy for the sheer quantity of cringe-worthy "comic" asides she keeps spitting out, like Bluto from the old Fleischer Popeye cartoons, in exactly the same manner as the horrible version of The Thief and the Cobbler released in 1995 by Harvey Weinstein's Miramax Pictures. And I do think that's enough to count as a very clear tell that some shenanigans happened with that character, at least.

But for the most part, no, the shitty film Leap! is mostly the same as the shitty film Ballerina, and thus it is mostly the end result that directors Éric Summer (who also co-wrote) and Éric Warin intended, so no blaming asshole Americans this time around.

The film is - you should possibly sit down, have a long drink of water, and perhaps have smelling salts ready in case you pass out from the shock - the film is about how you should follow your dreams, even when it seems that you might fail. The latest stock figures to work through this ancient formula are Félicie (Elle Fanning in English; Camille Cottin in French) and Victor (DeHaan/Wolff; Malik Bentalha), a pair of orphans living in Brittany in the late 1880s. She dreams of being a great ballerina, he dreams of being a great inventor, and together they run off to Paris, where they are confident that all their dreams will be realised. Once they arrive, they quickly get separated by misadventure, and the film largely stops paying attention to Victor: instead, it follows Félicie as she sneaks into the school of the ballet of the Opéra de Paris, steals the identity of horrible rich girl Camille (Maddie Ziegler; Kaycie Chase), and manages through virtually nothing but dumb luck to survive the wrath of the genius choreographer and ballet director Mérante (Terrence Scammell; Laurent Maurel). Meanwhile, she gets lessons from housekeeper Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen/Magali Barney), who harbors a deep secret that is clearly not that she used to be a great dancer before an injury put her out of the game.

Other than how shockingly willing the other characters and the movie itself are to let Félicie off the hook for being a rather nastily calculating liar (the moral justification is that Camille and her nightmarish stage mother are just that shitty as human beings that they deserve it), this is paint-by-numbers, write-it-in-your sleep stuff. The dialogue is enormously awful, full of clattering modern slang ("Your dancing sucks" says one character to another, in 1880s France, in a children's movie), and most of the performances accentuate that problem - Jepsen is beautifully horrible, sounding fully 20 years too young for the character, and having no emotional range in her voice on top of it. And she's not one of the Weinstein add-ons, which my brain refuses to allow as a possibility.

So it's an insipid film, to the surprise of, I hope, absolutely nobody. The curious thing about it, and the reason I'm not exactly upset that I saw it (though I would not urge any of you to follow my example) is the incredibly odd character animation. It falls into some sort of dell within the Uncanny Valley: not because it looks so close to reality that it feels wrong, but because it looks so close to animation that it feels wrong. Like, there's something subtle but pervasively incorrect in how the characters have been given life. To look at stills, other than the transparent debt that Félicie's character design owes to Rapunzel from Disney's Tangled, you might very well be able to tell yourself that this is an A-OK piece of work, well-textured and and rendered and designed. And it is, mostly, though the characters' flesh in motion looks a bit too waxy (the trick that seems to have been forgotten here: you need to add a little bit of internal glow. Just a touch, so they don't look like angels or fairies).

Aye, but those are stills. The animation is just the tiniest bit horrifying: impeccably smooth, but devoid of life. The characters move too much, especially Victor. They fling their limbs out in jagged lines that draw far too much attention to their joints, pivoting hard at the elbows and shoulders. That part of me which cares about the technology of CG animation is glad for it: it provides an extremely easy-to-understand example of the structure of 3-D rendered humans. You can tell, looking at the characters, how each bit of their bodies is rigged and programmed to move. It's a great teaching tool, but as an animated movie? Pure hell. The characters all look like possessed marionettes, their wooden bodies being jerked horribly by some unseen puppeteer suffering from arthritis.

And then, just to complete the "what am I watching, and how did it get made?" quality, the actual ballet in the film is copied from the movement of two of the current stars of the Opéra de paris ballet corps. Meaning that the movement of the ballerinas is exquisitely detailed and flowing. The effect is spoiled, considerably, by the bland pop music that keeps creeping into the soundtrack (including a pair of Jepsen songs), overtaking the diegetic use of Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, which both adds to the general sense of anachronism, and fucks with the timing of the dancing. Still, if you've got an itch for animated ballet dancers - I do not know why you'd have that itch, but if you've got it - that's the one and only thing Leap! actually provides. So credit where it's barely due.