Adam Sandler’s production company Happy Madison’s marriage with Netflix has paid off in spades, creating a ton of content for the streaming service for the last 4 years with a variety of feature films ranging from hits like Murder Mystery to the critical success You Are So Not Invited to My Bah Mitzvah. This time around, Sandler turns to 3D animation to tell a story of a class of middle schoolers who are struggling with growing up and a lizard coming to terms with his own mortality. While the audience is squarely aimed younger this time around, there is still plenty of humour and heart here for the whole family to enjoy this surprisingly sweet and sentimental tale about life, growing up and embracing the people around us.
The story is centred around the class pets including a lizard Leo (Sandler), and a turtle Squirtle (Bill Burr), who has been a staple of the classroom for the last 70 years. Leo is becoming increasingly aware that he is 70 years old and about to die and he is concerned that no one will mourn him or remember him when he is gone. Leo dreams of a grand funeral with many tributes and speeches about his many deeds. The issue is, he has sat in a classroom for the last 70 years just watching. Fate turns his way when a substitute teacher takes over and starts making the students take the pets home for the weekends. Leo decides to hatch an escape plan during one of these visits, when Leo accidentally talks to one of the students, he ends up becoming a source of inspiration to bring the class together to fulfil his plan for a meaningful send-off.
Scattered throughout the story are some original songs that come off a little jarring at first, but once they are injected with some typical Sandler humour, it really takes off. While there aren’t any memorable numbers here that will have you searching Spotify, it serves as a tool to create an emotional connection between the audience and the kids in the class.
The animation from indie studio Animal House is superb. There is a rich colour palette that infuses with the well-designed animals that make this a very beautiful film to look at. The design of the middle schoolers are reminiscent of Pixar designs (in the most complimentary way!) this is juxtaposed with the design of the kindergartners who are hilariously giant balloon heads with round eyes. It’s great to see some smaller animation houses producing quality designs on a film of this scale.
Leo is a complete delight, with some impressive voice talent that is guided by a surprisingly mature story from Happy Madison productions. While there are definitely some typical fart and urine jokes, they are injected at the exact right time that even got a chuckle out of me. Sandler delivers a surprisingly sweet performance as Leo, carrying the film as the wise old lizard who is able to bring the class together and teach them lessons about growing up. Animal House has crafted some superb creature designs here that look spectacular on Netflix’s 4K Dolby Vision. If Happy Madison keeps producing content like this, they can bring a new level of quality to their work that will win over both critics and audiences. Leo is a beautiful family film that will entertain all ages.
Leo is streaming now exclusively on Netfilx.
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