There is no denying how formulaic and conventional Eric Summer and Éric Warin’s animation Ballerina is – but when done in such an affectionate, knowing way, that thrives in the tropes rather than feels suffocated by them, it can lead to engaging cinema, that survives off that very same sense of familiarity.
Taking place at the latter end of the 19th century, during the building of the Eiffel Tower, we meet Félicie Milliner (Elle Fanning),who flees her Brittany orphanage with her best friend Victory (Dane DeHaan) to start a new life in Paris, and she begins by stealing the identity of somebody else, and enrolling herself at the Grand Opera House, with dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. Taken in by the cleaner Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen), the pair begin an intensive training course to ensure the young girl stands a chance of being cast in the forthcoming production of The Nutcracker.
The film is enriched, persistently, but the glorious aesthetic experience on offer as the vibrancy and romanticism of the 1879 Paris setting is wondrous on the big screen. There’s a meticulous attention to detail from the animators too, especially in the way they’ve evidently studied the technique of ballet, which should go some way in appeasing aficionados of the dance form. Sadly any such people are likely to be somewhat disappointed by the song selection, as the music that plays during the dance sequences are mostly terrible modern pop numbers, where some more traditionalist, timeless classical music would have been much more fitting. Thankfully the infectious optimism of Félicie keeps us on side, and though at the very start she’s really irritating and her blissful glee and naivety is infuriating, as we progress she begins to grow on us, and that very same energy becomes endearing, and it’s that spirit which allows this film to flourish.
It does take a rather long while before realising this is the case, as the film’s opening sequence is hard to sit through and will give many parents in the crowd that sinking feeling that you’re going to be in for a real slog. But miraculously, as the tale moves to the capital, the film improves drastically, finding its own voice and tone, away from an introduction that would have you believe you’re in for a real bad time of it. Alas, a charm becomes prevalent, and an enchantment sweeps over proceedings – you just gotta be a little patient, that’s all.