After 2023’s earlier surprise comedic family gem You Are Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, Adam Sandler and his Happy Madison Productions have done it again for Netflix, this time in the delightful and remarkably wise CGI animated feature Leo. It is a charmer for kids and their parents who get a few lessons here along the way as well.
Sandler voices 74-year-old Iguana, Leo, as if he were about to take the lectern at a Friar’s Roast. Leo has lived his whole life on display in a fifth grade classroom with revolving groups of kids since the 1940s. Next to him is BFF Squirtle, a fast talking turtle voiced memorably by Bill Burr. They are kind of the Bert and Ernie of the classroom, talking only to each other, and never revealing to the kids or teachers that they can actually converse with humans too. Leo, for whatever reason, has it in his head that all lizards of any stripe die automatically at age 75, and so he wants to fulfill everything on his bucket list and get out into the real world before he croaks (sorry).
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To do this an unexpected opportunity comes up when the extremely cranky and terrorizing substitute Miss Malkin (Cecily Strong) offers an assignment to willing kids to each have a shot at taking home one of the class “pets.” Leo weasles his way into the assignment beginning with a much too talkative young girl, Summer (Sunny Sandler) who is at first shocked to see Leo can talk (he promises her she is the only one who will ever know), but soon gets a valuable life lesson. one of many to follow as other kids volunteer to take Leo home too, once word of mouth takes hold. They include Eli, Mia, Anthony, Cole and Jayda, all kids with specific problems that Leo, now the class therapist of sorts, can easily solve with all he has observed of fifth graders over his entire life.
SNL veterans Robert Smigel, Robert Mariantetti, and David Wachtenheim who all worked on the classic SNL TV Funhouse shorts, join with Sandler to turn this all into a funhouse of its own with Smigel’s amusing songs sprinkled throughout, leading to the best of ’em “When I Was Ten” that gets a showcase by the kids at the end (an Oscar nomination for Best Song wouldn’t be a stretch if you ask me). Also from the SNL wheelhouse are such actors as Rob Schneider, Heidi Gardner and Strong all scoring points, along with Smigel’s kids and Sandler’s daughters Sunny and Sadie, and even their mother Jackie, making this a true family outing, just as Bat Mitzvah was.
Sandler is no stranger to ‘toons having delivered winners in the past with Eight Crazy Nights and the hit Hotel Transylvania franchise. He wrote this script with Smigel and Paul Sado, and it works on multiple levels much like one of my other favorite animated films this year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem did thanks to the talents of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg who gave it just the right comedic touch. Kids are not the only ones who will find much to like with Leo.
Producers are Sandler and Mireille Soria.
Release Date: Steaming now on Netflix
Director: Robert Smigel, Robert Marianetti, David Wachtenheim
Screenplay: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel, Paul Sado
Cast: Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Rob Schneider, Stephanie Tsu, Jo Koy, Heidi Gardner, Summer Sandler, Sadie Sandler, Rory Smigel, Reese Lores, Ethan Smigel.
Running Time: 1 hour and 42 minutes
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