The refreshing thing about "Leap!" is that it's a rare animated film with a female lead who isn't a princess, or the goal of becoming one. Its heroine, an Elle Fanning-voiced orphan who longs to become a ballerina in 19th century Paris, is a self-made girl who works to better her station in life and reach her goals.
Just about everything else in the movie, though, is stale. Its cardboard cut-out characters, vapid dialogue and credibility-straining plot machinations make "Leap!" feel like more of a dunce movie than a dance movie.
Technical problems also give the movie a cut-rate feel. Because "Leap!" is a red-dubbing of the French film "Ballerina," its dialogue sometimes doesn't match the characters' mouths. The direct-to-cable quality of the low-budget production is head-shaking at times.
Fanning does what she can to breathe life into the peppy lead, Felicie. She escapes a cruel Brittany orphanage with her friend-zoned inventor pal, Victor (Dane DeHaan) -- with whom she was seemingly locked in a bell tower by nuns -- and runs off to France, where she holes up at a ballet school.
Assuming the identity of a pompous student named Camille (Maddie Ziegler), she enrolls at a prestigious academy and seeks to prove her worth as she hides her secret. She has support from a maid (Carly Rae Jepsen) with a mysterious amount of dance knowledge. Kate McKinnon and Mel Brooks also lend their voices to characters with small parts, in what seems like a forced effort to up the star cred.
Will Felicie overcome her sad past to make the vaunted production of "The Nutcracker?" Will Camille get her comeuppance? Will Victor's unrequited crush ever be requited? The outcomes of the weak attempts at suspense are never in doubt, and even though Felicie is a spirited hard worker, she suffers so few convincing setbacks that her rise to glory seems mundane rather than exhilarating.
A few funny moments and some whimsical -- though patently ridiculous -- dance sequences mitigate the drab affair. Overall, "Leap!" is a harmless, moderately cute yet determinedly flat effort. Should you find yourself stuck watching this with your kids, you won't dread the experience, but it would be too much of a leap to expect you to enjoy it.
RATING: 2 stars out of 4.