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  • Nate Adams

'Leo' review: Animated Adam Sandler comedy sends mixed signals

Courtesy of Netflix


Keeping the coffers full at Netflix, Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison production company has stepped back into the animation ring (who remembers “Eight Crazy Nights?”) with the teacher's pet animated comedy “Leo.” It’s a somewhat ingenious premise writers Sander, Robert Smigel and Paul Sado cook up about a 74-year old lizard named Leo (voiced by Sandler) who discovers his life is about to end and all he’s accomplished is living inside an enclosed atrium next to his sarcastic buddy Squirtle (Bill Burr). The film’s existentialism themes are quite refreshing for a children’s movie, but the sentimental message about a school pet trying to make the most of his final days crossed with oddball musical numbers and a spattering of misplaced crude humor makes you wonder if the movie was conceived for adults or children? It wants the best of both worlds, though it comes up short in both categories. 

The primary storyline revolves around Leo, a school pet who has sat idle for several decades watching countless fifth graders graduate and move on. That’s all fine until he overhears one of the students discussing how lizards only make it to 75 (one of the film’s better jokes is Leo doesn’t actually know how old he is and has to track down a pair of second grade pets because they’re good at math) and he suddenly realizes he’s got nothing to show for it. So he decides to bust out and see the world, but that plan hits a snag when the stern new substitute teacher (Cecily Strong), as a lesson of responsibility, mandates students take Leo home on the weekends. 

From there, “Leo” is given an odd episodic structure as he meets various kids and understands their insecurities, fears, and ambitions. And since he can actually talk to humans, because it’s just a thing we must accept in all animated movies, Leo is able to provide some sage advice on how to handle the turmoils of being a fifth grader. But since this is Happy Maidson and not Pixar, the writing and how these delicate issues are handled is not that strong. In one instance, Leo essentially tells a spoiled rich kid named Jayda (Sadie Sandler) that the problem is her parents, specifically her dad (Jason Alexander), suck. Another kid, Summer (Sunny Sandler) is insecure about her chatty personality and takes the advice Leo gives her about listening rather than talking and, instead, uses it as a means to get closer to the popular kids. Maybe we should’ve let Leo just explore the world? 

It’s harmless, of course, and the banter between Burr and Sandler garners some chuckles and the best gag in the film is how the kindergarteners look and sound like they’re hopped on heavy doses of adderall and Red Bull. The animation, however, is a generic 3D computer animation blend that never pops nor gives the Florida locale any qualities or characteristics worth remembering, and did I mention this was a musical? The songs are instantly forgettable and serve minimal purpose in the overall scheme of the plot nor do they enhance the characters in any conceivable way. If you’re looking for a more sincere Adam Sandler comedy, go watch his film from earlier this year, “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” instead. 

Grade: C 

LEO streams on Netflix Wednesday, November 22nd. 


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