The Inventor

A charming stop-motion caricature of the Renaissance Man.

Leonardo da Vinci has been known as the “Renaissance Man,” an engineer with drawings and ideas of brilliant inventions and strong curiosity that gave him a name in the history books.

He’s also the subject of the latest stop-motion animated feature “The Inventor,” which is not in the tradition of more detailed films like “Wallace & Gromit,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” or “Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio,” but rather on a smaller scale. One that reminded me of Disney’s first stop-motion entry, a parody of “Noah’s Ark,” because of how it doesn’t take the expensive way (CGI) to test our imaginations, and chooses to act like a cartoon. One that basically has cotton representing the fights, and comic relief characters all around. And one that costs $10 million, which is cheap compared to most stop-motion features these days.

And because it’s distributed in the artisan fashion, it’s supported by traditional animation, which chooses to move at its slow and steady pace, instead of the fast Disney way. There’s a certain amount of whimsy when it comes to those sequences, especially when it adds musical numbers in the mix without overselling them in the commercial sense.

But the movie also wants to take this genius seriously, and believe in his intelligence and ideas. Leonardo da Vinci (voiced by Stephen Fry) dissects corpses to look for the soul to find out the meaning of life. He has his loyal assistants: the cautious Francesco (voiced by Angelino Sandri), and the mute strongman Zarro. They both support his dreams and inventions, but he is not without non-believers.

Pope Leo X (voiced by Matt Berry) hates his kind of curiosity, and wants him focus more on designing ideas for war machines. He is the big guy with a face similar to Principal Krupp in “Captain Underpants,” and a size difference between him and his advisor in the style of the hot-tempered Queen of Hearts and the tiny King in “Alice in Wonderland.”

Then, the inventor and his assistants are invited to France by the eccentric king Frances I (voiced by Gauthier Battoue), who is more interested in his own statue than da Vinci’s vision of what he calls “The Ideal City.” Even his mother Louise of Savoy (voiced by Marion Cotillard) is full of cynicism. But da Vinci is given spirits by the princess Marguerite (voiced by Daisy Ridley), who is optimistic enough to see his visions on a brighter and more innovative future.

I’m not sure little kids are going to understand the story, which seems to get a little convoluted with the building process and how da Vinci tries to figure out the meaning of life. But for older kids, teenagers, adults, and even myself, there’s a sense of delight and charm within “The Inventor.” It believes in da Vinci, as much as we always have. After all, not all of us are idiots who think he should stick to studying the basics.

“Guillermo del Toro’s “Pinocchio” is the wiser stop-motion film to take on an Italian figure with more humanity and magic, but “The Inventor” serves as a throwback to the smaller things in life. It doesn’t have the story for this movie to excel at that level, but it does have impressive animation on both sides and entertaining voice actors to help bring it to life.

Rating: 3 out of 4.

In Select Theaters This Friday

This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA and Writers Guild of America strikes.

Categories: Adventure, Animation, comedy, Family, Musical

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