Nov 20, 2023
Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, David Wachtenheim
Robert Smigel, Adam Sandler, Paul Sado
Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong
NEW TO UK FILM REVIEW
Critics Chris Olson and Brian Penn host UK Film Club - a new film podcast covering all film types. From blockbusters to old favourites and even indie & shorts.
Adam Sandler and the whole TV Funhouse bunch get together for an animated kids’ film about a classroom pet who puts his many years of observing children to good use.
Leo (Sandler) the lizard, along with terrarium pal Squirtle (Bill Burr) the turtle, has lived in the same Florida 5th grade classroom for decades. At 74, and believing his life expectancy merits it, Leo plans to make a break for freedom. Instead, he becomes a kind of life coach to 10-year-olds.
Leo has a lot going for it. Sandler’s soft-hearted comedic presence feels perfectly at home in the classroom, while Burr’s patented “get off my lawn” crankiness offsets things nicely. The story, written by Sandler along with co-director Robert Smigel as well as Sandler’s frequent writing partner Paul Sado, touches on helicopter parenting and other anxieties authentic to modern youngsters.
The premise allows for lots of fun and funny moments as, by helping each kid better understand themselves, Leo comes to recognize his own purpose. There are also wildly random moments of comedy that feel in keeping with the filmmakers’ TV Funhouse origins while helping the film stay fresh.
The downside? Leo the film cannot seem to find its own purpose. It is essentially a musical, although in between songs you will forget that entirely. Nothing about the proceedings suggests the whimsy or theatricality of a musical, and though a couple of the songs are fun, every single number feels stitched in for no reason. Very few of the singers can sing and not one of the songs is memorable enough to merit its inclusion.
Worse still, Leo feels long. Trimming the songs wouldn’t hurt the story and it would seriously benefit the run time.
Sandler’s carved out a mainly mediocre presence in family entertainment, with three Hotel Transylvania films and Hubie Halloween. Earlier this year, he produced and co-starred in the absolute charmer You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, also for Netflix.
Leo doesn’t reach the heights of YASNITMBM, but it aims higher than the others and frequently endears.