Leo movie review: Adam Sandler’s mildly anarchic Netflix film tackles problematic parenting with silly songs and subversion | Movie-review News


Adam Sandler voices a curmudgeonly (but chaotic) lizard named Leo in Netflix’s new animated movie, co-directed by his old collaborator Robert Smigel. They previously worked together on a couple of those very successful Hotel Transylvania movies, whose zany humour Leo is also laced with. Neither a children’s movie nor something that their parents can enjoy without rolling their eyes at least once, Leo exists in a limbo of its own making.

Having settled into a complacent existence in a fifth-grade classroom that he has called home since 1949, Leo and his best friend Squirtle (voiced by Bill Burr) have seen batch after batch of 10-year-olds come and go. This has made them experts in the field of child anthropology. In just one glance, for instance, Leo can tell if someone is an only child who’s never been told to shut up or an insecure urchin acting out because they’ve been bullied themselves. Leo hasn’t ever taken an active interest in the children’s lives, but his standoffish attitude is given an unexpected shake when he learns one day that he basically has one year left to live.

Combining the sappy sentimentality of something like The Fault in Our Stars with the silliness that suits Sandler and nobody else — the movie is peppered with songs that the star himself seems to get bored of mid-performance — Leo can be jarringly crude in one moment, and positively Pixar-esque in another. While this obviously creates an odd dissonance, the tone feels deliberate.

Which begs the question, why? Sure, there’s humour to be found in a lunatic lizard imparting valuable life-lessons to 10-year-olds turn by turn, as he spends weekends with each child in the classroom as per the teacher’s instructions, but just as things begin to cook, Smigel and his fellow directors Robert Marianetti and David Wachtenheim get Squirtle to pee or something. That, in hindsight, is probably how he got his name.

As he’s passed around from one child to another, Leo discovers that each of them is struggling with some insecurity or another. It’s worth appreciating the filmmakers for not cursing the kids with problems disproportionate to their age. For instance, while one of them is ashamed of his voice, another is afraid that she’ll never make friends. But there’s no problem that Leo can’t solve with a silly song, and before he knows it, he’s the most in-demand therapist in the fifth-grade.

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Of course, Leo’s growing influence becomes a matter of concern for the grown-ups; the kids’ substitute teacher Ms Malkin (voiced by Cecily Strong) steps up to assume the role of the villain just as you begin to notice that the narrative lacks any real conflict (besides, of course, Leo’s impending death). But the movie doesn’t dwell on concepts such as mortality for too long, and less than 10 minutes after being told that Leo has a year to live, you’ve forgotten it already. It’s only in the third act that the movie takes a moderately dark turn, as the action moves away from the safety of the elementary school and the assortment of bedrooms that Leo had been shuffling between, and enters the literal wilderness.

The animation is serviceable; bright colours, it is assumed, will make up for any shortcomings in creativity. Don’t hold your breath for those Genndy Tartakovsky-style visual acrobatics that came to define the Hotel Transylvania films here. Nor must you expect waterworks in even the most emotional moments of the movie. Sandler does, however, inject the movie with bursts of anarchy that yank it away from the doubly dull corner of the internet that animated streaming movies are usually doomed to lurk in.

Directors – Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, David Wachtenheim
Cast – Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Jason Alexander
Rating – 3.5/5


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