Leo Movie Review
Leo Movie Review Metadata
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a class pet you can wonder no longer. After surprising fans and critics alike with You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah, Adam Sandler brings his brood along again for his second family comedy in 2023 in Netflix’s funny and heartwarming Leo. With this movie being Sandler’s first animated film since 2018’s Hotel Transylvania 3, he takes on the role of co-writer, co-producer, and lead voice actor in a story that finds the beloved comedian trading Romania for a school classroom and a monster for a lizard.
Part musical, part comedy, Leo follows lifelong friends Leo and his turtle buddy, Squirtle (voiced by Bill Burr), as they live out their lives in a cramped aquarium housed within a 5th-grade classroom. Each year, they observe a new set of children celebrate their ascent to the top of the totem pole which Sandler along with co-writers Paul Sado and Robert Smigel (longtime Saturday Night Live writer) impeccably captures. Whether it be the 1970s or the 2020s, they’ve seen it all – the mean girls (aka the “tween queens),” the bully, the class clown, and so 2023, the kid with an allergy to everything.
It’s a new school year and life isn’t too bad. Leo and Squirtle for the most part still enjoy each other’s company and the newest set of 11-year-olds get to celebrate their time ruling the school. But it all comes crashing down when the sweet Mrs. Salinas is forced to take a leave of absence for the year and is replaced by the old and crotchety Ms. Malkin (Cecily Strong). A very single, miserable woman who rules the classroom as if it were 1950 – and if ninja knuckles and ninja stars were allowed – Malkin channels Miss Nelson from the classic children’s book Miss Nelson is Missing. A ‘sink the substitute’ mentality is quickly replaced with a fear of the unknown. And when Leo overhears a parent mention that lizards don’t live past 75, he realizes his time is short and that time is short to live out his dreams.
As if it were fate, Ms. Malkin forces the students to take home one of the class pets each Friday to teach them discipline and opens up numerous opportunities for Leo to escape. What starts as a reluctant responsibility for the students soon turns into a treasured treat when each kid individually learns that Leo can talk – and dispense advice. Leo, meanwhile, continues to get the opportunity to find his freedom, but as he plays therapist to each child, he discovers that perhaps there is more to his captive life than he initially thought.
Sandler has always been known to be a dedicated family guy and he proves that again by casting his wife and both daughters. Based on the success of You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah and Leo‘s ability to reach all ages, he is certainly on to something. And like Grown Ups and other Sandler comedies, he also brings along close friends Rob Schneider, Kevin James, and Nick Swardson along for the ride.
The best animated films are those that viewers of any age can relate to and Leo is just that. It’s sweet. It’s funny. It’s uplifting. It’s perfectly imperfect. And while the film falls off the rails in the back half, it finishes strong to give Sandler another win in the family comedy column. Young children will chuckle at the wild and manic kindergartners and everyone from tweens to seniors will remember the highs and lows of growing up. Who hasn’t experienced a motor mouth friend like Summer (Sunny Sandler), an entitled friend like Jayda (Sadie Sandler), or faced a bully like Anthony (Ethan Smigel)? If only we all had someone like Leo to help us along the way.
Leo (2023) begins streaming on Netflix November 21, 2023