Adam Sandler’s lizard will charm kids from the gecko.
“Leo” is a harmless animated film, co-written by, produced by and starring the voice of Adam Sandler as the title character, who is an aging class lizard with a bucket list. It would be less likely he would get to travel the world, considering that the kids who are supposed to take him home on the weekends would have their modern amenities keeping him at bay, and the fact that he accidentally spills the beans that he can talk. And I don’t mean that typical cliché where the animated animal has to sound like an animal from the human’s perspective (“Madagascar,” “Smallfoot,” “The Secret Life of Pets”). I mean they can understand each other, and Leo tells each kid who brings him home that only he can talk to them and that each one is special. And being an old geezer who believes he will die when he makes it to 75 years old, he shares with each kid his words of wisdom (even though they’ve never even heard of Smash Mouth).
The movie plays like a cartoon, not only for the human and animal communications, but also because the kindergarteners are as crazy as Gremlins, a rich dad (with Jason Alexander’s voice) has dancing and singing watches, and a drone that thinks it can eat ice cream when it’s been rejected. It also plays like a musical with not much memorable lyrics, but still good intentions.
Each kid has a distinct personality, and Leo is able to read them like books. Among them, there’s the allergy kid Eli (voiced by Roey Smigel) whose helicopter parents have their drone destroy a visitor’s Cheetos. There’s the chatterbox Summer (voiced by Sunny Sandler), who needs to learn to speak less and ask questions. And there’s the bully Anthony (voiced by Ethan Smigel), who got held back a few grades, one of the reasons is him thinking the New England Patriots are in New York.
His fellow class pet friend is a turtle named Squirtle (voiced by Bill Burr), who thinks Leo is crazy to even dream of escaping into the wild. And when he sneaks his way into a kid’s home with Leo, he isn’t exactly the best role model, especially when he teaches him how babies are born. His species’ birth procedure: turtles hide their eggs in the sand.
There’s also a substitute teacher Mrs. Malkin (voiced by Cecily Strong), who is so traditional with her old school teaching methods that she should be dating Paul Giamatti’s character in “The Holdovers.” That is if he was attracted or interested in her. Anyway, she seems like an antagonist, especially when she still gives out demerits (which today’s kids don’t get or know), but even she has her qualities that Leo can acknowledge within her.
“Leo” is Sandler’s fifth animated film after “Eight Crazy Nights” and the first three “Hotel Transylvania” movies, and while it breaks no animation grounds, it still may have kids entertained from the gecko. Pun intended. It doesn’t resort to mean or predictable behaviors, but actually is more about the philosophy one can offer to kids, which in this case comes from an old lizard, who has seen and learned about different generations of kids. And Sandler can be funny and goodhearted if he wants to be, and I like his bantering with Burr as the turtle.
“Wish” can entertain kids in theatres, while “Leo” can babysit them at home. They both have their flaws, but, on their own respective terms, they work.
Rating: 3 out of 4.
Now Playing in Select Theaters and Streaming on Netflix