MOVIE REVIEW: Animation in Ballerina is a cut above the rest
THIS animated film from Canada and France, being screened here in a version with English dialogue, follows the familiar formula of an underdog with big dreams entering a competition and taking on the rich-kid bullies.
The setting is especially delightful: Paris in 1879. The Eiffel Tower is still under construction - a startling sight, rather like the half-built Death Star in Return Of the Jedi - and as we see, the Statue of Liberty is also a work in progress, destined to be gifted by France to the USA.
Our heroine is Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning), a girl who dreams of escaping her orphanage in Brittany to go to Paris and dance ballet at the Paris Opera. Teaming up with another orphan, Victor (Dane DeHaan), who aspires to become an inventor, they make a break for the City of Light.
Félicie inveigles her way into a juvenile class at the Opera, where the challenge is set: one young dancer will get to dance as Clara in The Nutcracker, while the rest are eliminated over a period of days in a set-up similar to a reality TV show.
Félicie has little technique but plenty of heart. Luckily a cleaner at the Opera, Odette (Carly Rae Jepson), whose pronounced limp forcefully hints that she's a disappointed former dancer herself, takes her under her wing and becomes her Mr Miyagi.
Indeed, the best scene in the movie is a variation on wax-on, wax-off: using a bell and puddle of water, Odette teaches Félicie how to leap gracefully.
The movie has other formulaic elements. There's a tepid love triangle between Félicie, Victor and a smug Russian dancer. Félicie suffers the taunts of a mean-girl rival and her pushy, Cruella de Vil-like stage mum.
Slapstick and chase scenes gamely try to extend the audience beyond the young girls it's so obviously targeted at, but the film's greatest strength is the dancing (the filmmakers worked extensively with professional choreographers).
Ballet is all about making the body achieve amazing feats seemingly effortlessly, and the animation replicates that with often sublime effect.
Ballerina opens nationally tomorrow.
Stars: Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Carly Rae Jepson, Maddie Ziegler.
Directors: Eric Summer and Eric Warin
Verdict: 3/5 stars