It’s only natural that a smash-hit film will herald a flurry of knock-offs like Ballerina, even when said film is of the animated variety.
During the first few minutes of the computer-animated film Ballerina, I assumed that it was capitalising on the success of 2013’s Frozen. Ballerina’s protagonist Félicie (Elle Fanning) closely resembles Frozen’s Anna, from her long red hair down to her insatiable passion for life. After a while, however, it became clear that while Ballerina does share some similarities to Frozen, it stands on its own merits, emerging as a surprisingly enjoyable little film.
Set in Paris in the late 1800’s, Ballerina tells the story of Félicie, an orphan who lives to dance. Félicie and her best friend Victor (Dane DeHaan) flee their confining orphanage for Paris. A comedy of errors ensues, and Félicie finds herself training in dance at the Paris Opera, impersonating the snotty and rich Camille (Maddie Ziegler). Evidently, Félicie has never been formally trained, let alone in the precise and painfully difficult art of ballet, so her dance classes are nothing short of a struggle. Enter the Paris Opera caretaker, Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), who pushes Félicie to improve her craft and fulfil her dreams.
A buffet of slapstick humour, savage witticisms, and montages designed to inspire audience members to reach for the metaphorical stars; Ballerina entertains. You’ll probably know how it’s all going to turn out for Félicie, but watching her leap towards her goals with the enthusiasm of a deer that’s been injected with red cordial is equal parts amusing and gratifying. With that said, the slapstick at the film’s beginning does feel a bit much. There’s only so many times Félicie and Victor can evade death or injury. Children probably won’t mind these scenes, however, and they’re worth enduring, because the adults are treated to something far more tantalising: the viciously biting commentary of Félicie’s dance teacher. The way he likens his student’s dance ability to that of a large animal is nothing short of golden. The dance scenes are also something to look forward to; beautiful and gracius and incredibly realistic.
Ballerina’s voice actors are mostly memorable and well-suited with their animated cohorts, but the younger actors are slightly over-the-top on occasion, suggesting that they’re yet to perfect the type of exaggerated realism evident within animation’s most beloved characters. They still inject a believability into their characters, however, ensuring that audiences are not too excruciatingly uncomfortable whenever they appear on screen.
All in all, while Ballerina isn’t perhaps as powerful as Frozen, it is still a well-written caper pushing a message that every child should probably hear at least a few times within their lifespan: to get what you want – persevere and push through no matter how silly you may feel. You’ll either get to where you want to be, or you won’t, but one thing is clear – you’ll come out stronger than you were before you started.
Although their characters are supposed to be around the same age, Dane DeHaan (the voice of Victor) is actually 12 years older than Elle Fanning (the voice of Félicie).