Review by Dan Skip Allen
Adam Sandler hasn't done many animated films in his career. He has done the Hotel Transylvania series, though, where he played Count Dracula. Now, he is in a new animated film produced by his own Happy Madison called Leo, where he voices a lizard. He takes this role very seriously, and this reptile ends up being a good role model for a class full of bratty kids.
Leo (Adam Sandler) and Squirtle (Bill Burr) are two captive animals in a class full of fifth graders. They sit in their cage, commenting on everything that goes on around them. When the teacher gets pregnant, a substitute teacher takes over the class. She's a lot harder on the kids than the last teacher. One of the things she implements is that the kids have to take one of the pets home for the weekend. Leo ends up being the one who goes. When he's with the kids, they learn that he can talk, and he starts to give them advice on home and school lives.
The animation is pretty straightforward computer animation. The kids and adults all look similar to many other humans in other animated films. It's the animals — specifically Leo and Squirtle — that have a distinct look to them. I think that was on purpose. The animals had to have a different look to set them apart from all the humans in the film. The humans did have some famous people voicing them, though.
Jason Alexander, Cecily Strong, Jo Koy, and Rob Schneider (a Happy Madison regular), all voice adults in the film. The kids are voiced by a group of unknowns, as far as I could see. They were all fine, though, in their roles. All the kids had various issues that set them apart from the others. When the story gets to the climax, they all come together for a common goal. The cast as a whole is pretty good.
Robert Smigel, Robert Marianetti, and David Wachtenheim directed this movie from a script by Smigel, Sandler and Paul Sado. They infused themes kids can get behind as well as adults. Plot points involving parental problems, separation, bullying, and body issues are littered throughout this story. The main one I am dealing with in my personal life is aging. That was a surprise to me. I didn't think a story point about an aging lizard would be a key in the story, but it was. It's not fun getting old, so I can relate to that in the film.
Leo isn't going to be labeled one of the best animated films of the year, but it is quite interesting in its story, and some of the animation was good. Sandler and company do an adequate job bringing these characters to life. The various story elements are the reason to see the movie on Netflix when it streams. A plot device of talking animals proves to be a good idea in this context. Giving advice and an aging story beat were my favorite parts of what is mostly an average animated film.
Leo is now in theaters and streams on Netflix beginning November 21.