Set in 1879, the narrative follows big-eyed redhead Felicie (Elle Fanning), an orphan girl who dreams of becoming a professional ballerina but lacks any formal training. Felicie soon runs from rural Brittany, accompanied by her young inventor pal Victor (Dane DeHaan), with the pair landing in Paris.
By assuming the identity of the ruthless Camille (Maddie Ziegler), Felicie gets a chance to audition for the dance school of the famous Paris Opera, though without any technique or training she finds the process very difficult.
Thankfully, she is able to make progress after enlisting the institution’s mysterious caretaker Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) – who basically acts as the Mr Miyagi to her Karate Kid – and helps her face Merante (Terrence Scammell), a cartoonish choreographer who eliminates the worst dancer in each class.
As expected, Ballerina falls into cliché territory, with the movie’s central theme revolving around Felicie finding the courage to follow her passion by working hard to turn her desires into reality. However, the French-Canadian production, co-directed by Eric Summer and Eric Warin, does benefit from clever animation, and does not disappoint on the choreography. The animators employed two star dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet, Aurelie Dupont and Jeremie Belingard, to create accurate and magical dance sequences which generate real magic.
The animators also pay homage to Fin de siecle Paris throughout, with the Eiffel Tower shown under construction, as is the Statue of Liberty. The voice cast in the U.S. version also do a great job of enlivening the dialogue, though it’s something of a wonder that Fanning manages to maintain her chirpy and optimistic tone throughout.
However, the plot suffers in places as it is unclear whether a series of ballet classes are taken over a week, or a much longer period, as typical of the arduous dance practice. Also confusing is the modern soundtrack, with the inclusion of Demi Lovato’s song Confident, really clashing with the period setting.
Ultimately, Ballerina is most enjoyable in the dance scenes, where each pirouette and grand jete are accurately and cleverly animated. And the slapstick elements should appeal to young dance fans, for the majority of the 90-minute length, at least.
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