“Ballerina” (2016) Film Review
Posted 18th May, 2017
Written by Jambareeqi
“Ballerina” (released as “Leap!” in the US) is a Canadian-French animated film about a dance obsessed orphan girl called Félicie, who escapes the orphanage to Paris with her best friend Victor. In Paris, Victor goes off to chase a job in inventing and Félicie finds a way to get into ballet school. Luckily for Felice, she ends up working with the school’s cleaner Odette at the house of promising ballet performer Camille. Felice ends up collecting an invitation to the ballet school for Camille and takes her place.
It’s not easy for the inexperienced Félicie, who ends up turning to Odette (who used to be a top class ballerina before an accident) for private training to convince the school to keep her. Meanwhile, Felice develops a crush on a skilled ballet student called Rudy, to the jealousy of Victor.
The Liar’s act is a very overused storyline, so I’m often sceptic about films that go ahead with such a premise. Most of these kinds of films are dominated scenarios where characters are forced to talk and talk and talk their way out of pressured situations. It’s the same gag all the way through and it can get boring after a while.
Luckily, “Ballerina” takes the Liar’s Act in a different direction. In order to pull off her act, Félicie relies on her private training with Odette to deceive the ballet school. So the film doesn’t throw in overlong scenes of Félicie lying through her teeth until things get too silly, but instead centres on her development as a ballet performer and how she proves herself through her dances at school. This makes for a very visual way of communicating Félicie’s deception; which is ideal for film’s golden rule of “Show, don’t tell”.
The strength of the film is it’s portrayal of how much hard work goes into ballet. The training that Félicie takes with Odette is incredibly intense and shows how much physical effort is required to pull off being a great ballerina. The training goes on for a while, showing a variety of wild methods for improving Félicie’s ballet skills, and she has to keep trying and trying. While most films like this opt for a quick montage, we actually get to see Félicie being pushed and pulled by her teacher via various lessons. The relationship between Odette and Félicie is really moving too, they bring eachother’s dreams to life and their bond indicates an almost mother-daughter connection.
I really like that Félicie isn’t perfect at dancing at first, but she has the immense passion and enthusiasm to keep motivating her. We all start off a little rubbish when we begin our career paths, we’re not born with gifted talent and we have to practice until we sweat to become masters or mistresses of our crafts. What matters is the consistent determination and drive to keep pursuing our dream careers; and Felice brilliantly demonstrates the spirit of this philosophy through her resilient persistence.
Although, I’ll admit that it’s hard to shake off the fact that Félicie is doing all these amazing things under the guise of someone else’s identity. Maybe other people can brush this uncomfortable feeling under the rug, but I kept thinking “If she’s willing to steal someone’s identity, what else will she do to become a famous ballerina? Cheat? Kidnap? Murder?!”. No matter how genuinely bad she feels afterwards, such willingness to do wrong can make us question her instinctive morals.
The film tries to help us forgive her fraudulence by having the real Camille be very unlikeable, but it tries TOO hard and ends up making Camille seem like a caricature bully; It doesn’t help that Camille’s mum is a Lady Tremaine doppelganger who acts like an over the top stage mother. Exaggerating the villainy of Félicie’s identity fraud victims doesn’t help me ignore the crime, it just makes Camille and her mum look like cartoony baddies and turns a simple ballerina story into something unnecessarily silly.
The film does also try to make us sympathise with Camille to flesh her out, by showing that she’s just the casualty of an overbearing stage parent; but it falls flat because her mother’s extremely strict parenting is framed so melodramatically. I would have felt sorry for Camille if the movie toned down the mother and daughter’s ridiculously over the top personalities.
Then we have Félicie’s best friend Victor, who is quite possibly the film’s worst aspect. While Victor does seem legitimately loving and supportive of Félicie, he’s also creepily obsessed with her; to the point where he calls her his girlfriend behind her back (twice), even though no such relationship has been made official. The film attempts to make Victor the “Nice Guy” by introducing a snobby jackass as a love rival, but guess what movie? I’m not going to root for Victor just because he’s less awful than Rudy.
The whole love triangle subplot is pretty silly anyway, it’s just there to make her skip practice before her audition in the school’s production of “The Nutcracker”. It’s quite out of character for Félicie to abandon ballet practice for boys, because her passion for dance is so strong. To be honest, the audition is enough drama to hold a third act together and keep us invested.
Oh and I’m not done complaining about Victor haha! The film also forces Victor to be constantly clumsy, and his klutziness is more tonally disruptive than charmingly funny. I do like that his passion for inventing mirrors Félicie’s love for ballet, but he’s just way too obnoxious to tolerate as a supporting character. The hardest scenes to watch in this movie are the ones featuring Victor, because he is just way too overbearing and cringe inducing.
To conclude, “Ballerina” shines the most when it embraces the art of Ballet itself and focuses on Félicie’s passion for the craft. It just loses that charm when it tries to follow the Hollywood cliche templates of forced frantic comedy, a Disney-esque villainess and shoehorned love triangle nonsense. It’s also hard to ignore Félicie’s willingness to commit identity fraud, because it shapes her morals as a character. “Ballerina” is rough around the edges but it has enough heart and spirit to be endearingly inspiring.
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