Featuring the voice of Elle Fanning. Rated G
Ballerina would be just another predictable, rags-to-riches, girl-follows-her-dreams movie if it weren’t for one big factor: it’s set in fin-de-siècle Paris.
The lushly animated France-Canada production has fun bringing the era to life, the cobbled streets lit by gaslight, pink sunsets reflecting off car- and tourist-free Seine bridges, and the Eiffel Tower only one-third built. You feel Félicie’s sense of wonder one night when she stumbles across the home of the grand Paris Opera Ballet, glowing like some ornate beacon in the night.
When we first meet young Félicie (voiced by Elle Fanning), she’s trying to escape her Oliver Twist–style orphanage. We know she’ll succeed because she has red hair—the cartoon sign of pluck. She dreams of being a dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet, and she flees with her buddy Victor (Dane DeHaan), who wants to be an inventor in Gustave Eiffel’s workshop.
To join the ballet, our heroine has to impersonate a rich kid, sparking the ire of a mother who’s equal parts Cruella de Vil and Sleeping Beauty stepmonster. On Félicie’s side is an injured ex-dancer who becomes her Mr. Miyagi, teaching her how to jump and ring a courtyard bell without splashing a puddle when she lands. And Félicie has unbridled passion, something her privileged competitors for the role in the next Nutcracker simply don’t have.
You know already how this is going to work out. Along the way there are some at best gentle laughs. A rivalry between Victor and a blond Russian dancer named Rudolph for Félicie’s affections is only mildly amusing. But Ballerina really excels in its dance, the animators basing the ballet moves on real choreography and legit Paris dance stars. The jetés and fouettés have the slightly weird lack of gravity you see in digital animation, but the moves feel like real feats.
So budding ballerinas who know a pirouette from a plié are going to eat this up, even as the messages about following their dreams are being driven home with the force of a pointe shoe being hammered into their little skulls.
And their parents? They can pleasantly zone out and imagine what it would be like to live in fin-de-siècle Paris, sipping pastis on a cobbled street under gaslight.