Netflix’s marketing for Leo has been abysmal, mainly because it shares the same name as a Lokesh Cinematic Universe title starring Vijay Thalapathy that will bow out on the streaming service soon after a limited theatrical run. Indian publications now report that Lokesh Kanagaraj’s Leo is dropping on the 21st, but it’s Adam Sandler’s Leo, the Chameleon animated movie.
The trailers also market it as a harmless and cute animated movie where Leo (Adam Sandler) advises elementary school children as they grow up to become first-year high school students. But it’s far wilder than that and more bizarre in its structure and presentation than it meets the eye.
First, I do not know why Netflix isn’t revealing to the public that this film is a full-on musical. Of course, many studios do the same thing: hide that a movie is a musical to drum up ticket sales and streaming numbers, but it feels incredibly dishonest to the audience. ‘First, I do not know why Netflix isn’t revealing to the public that this film is a full-on musical. Of course, many studios do the same thing: hide that a movie is a musical to drum up ticket sales and streaming numbers, but it feels incredibly dishonest to the audience.
For those who will press play on Leo when it releases on Netflix on November 21, know that it starts with a song and is a consistent musical as it reaches its end. And suppose you accept that this film is a full-on musical. In that case, you may enjoy one of the funniest and weirdest animated offerings a studio has ever put out this year, one that benefits from the incredible presence of Adam Sandler giving his most bizarre voice yet to a wise Chameleon.
Adam Sandler Shines as Leo
The conceit of Leo sees its titular character face his mortality. Approaching the fateful year of 75, Leo now believes it’s now or never to live his life to the fullest before the Grim Reaper comes out to get him. He has been spending most of his life in the same terrarium in the same elementary school classroom alongside his turtle friend Squirtle (Bill Burr). However, when a substitute teacher (Cecily Strong) arrives and assigns each student to take care of Leo weekly, he decides to make the most of this moment and teach them some essential life lessons. And that’s when the movie starts to get real off-kilter.
Adam Sandler’s filmography is incredibly fascinating. After an incredible Awards campaign for his career-best portrayal as Howard Ratner in Uncut Gems, one would’ve hoped for a career shift in his film slate for The Sandman. However, he immediately returned to make his buddy comedies where he plays a character doing weird voices. He still had time to star in Hustle, and You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, but it seems he enjoys himself most when he gets weird. In Leo, he gets odd and uses his absurdly high-pitched and raspy voice to infuse life into this wise Chameleon.
It could be grating, mainly because he used the same voice variation in films like Jack & Jill, Sandy Wexler, and Hubie Halloween, but it’s strangely compelling and is in tone for the character. It’s even stranger when he starts singing, but it never feels cringeworthy or painful to sit through. Sandler is consistently funny here, and it is perhaps the best animated character he brought to life. Eat your heart out, count Dracula.
Sandler also shares incredible chemistry with Burr, who’s the funniest he’s been in ages. Everyone knows what I thought of his ham-fisted Old Dads, but his timing as Squirtle is pitch-perfect, and the blend of kid-oriented comedy with adult flourish works surprisingly well with Sandler and Burr leading the fort.
Leo‘s Strength is in its Writing, Not Its Animation
While the animation is competently constructed, it also hinders most of its visual gags from reaching its full potential. Some of the larger setpieces near the movie’s end are fine but not as grand as directors Robert Marianetti, Robert Smiegel, and David Wachtenheim want to push. It’s the only glaring flaw the movie has because it never strays in predictability.
Sure, some of the earlier Act One stuff could be considered conventional, but the filmmakers consistently subvert audience expectations by throwing one unexpected musical number after another to spice things up. Through those numbers and catchy tunes, writers Robert Smiegel, Paul Sado, and Sandler pull some life lessons that feel thoughtful and poignant, where characters are encouraged to be themselves instead of conforming to a herd-like mentality.
Instead of feeling insecure about their selves, they should own who they are and proudly assume the traits that make them unique. That’s the message that Sandler brilliantly conveys through this 102-minute animated ride that’s at times weird but never dull.
The weirdness of Leo is what makes it memorable and one of the better-animated offerings we’ve seen all year. Sandler’s charm at playing off-kilter characters doesn’t feel annoying, but an earnest portrayal of a wise and old Chameleon with much on his mind to transmit to others. It may not have the most refined animation of the year, but it has the most heart. I’ll never forgive Netflix for sweeping this movie under the rug because it deserves to be seen by all animation fans and Adam Sandler.
Leo is now playing in select theatres and will be released on Netflix on November 21. What did you think of the movie? Are you excited about another Adam Sandler animated movie? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to follow us on social media!