Directed by Éric Summer and Éric Warin
Featuring the voice talents of Elle Fanning, Dane DeHaan, Maddie Ziegler, Carly Rae Jepsen, Terrence Scammell, and Julie Khaner.
An orphan girl dreams of becoming a ballerina and flees her rural Brittany for Paris, where she passes for someone else and accedes to the position of pupil at the Grand Opera House.
Ballerina is an unabashed wish-fulfillment fantasy that works as the antithesis to the bleak, psycho-thriller Black Swan 7 years prior. French orphans Felicie (Elle Fanning) and Victor (Dane DeHaan) escape the dreary, rural Catholic orphanage to pursue their dreams in the big city of Paris. Felicie wishes to be a ballet dancer and Victor wishes to be an inventor. Victor tells Felicie that he kinda-yet-totally-doesn’t know where the top ballet school is and he will kinda-yet-totally-won’t take her there. In a contrived ploy involving violent pigeons to separate our two protagonists, Felicie wanders the Parisian night-streets seeking shelter. She soon discovers the Grand Opera House, and her dreams to become a ballet dancer begin to manifest.
It must be duly noted that the anachronisms permeate this film. The millennial-inspired speech patterns, the contemporary pop music (which are jarring to the classical music compositions from the works of Tchaikovsky), and even the denim mini shorts donned by Felicie firmly places this film in the here-and-now. It’s refreshing, though, to see a contemporized film that doesn’t have a socio-political agenda but wants to tell a simple wish-fulfillment kids story. This strangeness goes further when you see the details elsewhere, like the gorgeous Parisian cityscape, and Victor’s side plot of working at Gustave Eiffel’s office during the construction of the Eiffel Tower, which makes one wonder why omit some of these touches from the main narrative? What does this add to the story?
Felicie arrives at the ballet school with big dreams but no formal training. She must, therefore, prove her worth and train much harder than her peers. A mysterious limping, cleaning woman at the school named Odette (Carly Rae Jepsen) acts as her mentor. This dynamic acts as a perfect setup to the themes of self-discipline, hard work equals just rewards, and passion triumphs privilege. I say act because the plot lays out easy solutions whenever Felicie encounters any obstacles. Further still, everyone, including some characters who are supposedly impartial to her progress or were once catalysts to her journey, supports her. The exceptions are main antagonists, the spoilt Camille (Maddie Ziegler) and her sneering mother Regine (Julie Khaner) who delightfully belittle and challenge Felicie at every opportunity. Regine’s devilish persona is reminiscent of the evil step-mother from Cinderella, which brings me on to a major issue with this movie.
In its narrative simplicity, the film loses the opportunity to provide moments of flair. Victor is boiled-down to a comic relief caricature, who only becomes increasingly annoying with every passing scene, and the supposedly impartial ballet instructor Merante (Terrence Scammell) becomes the vessel for the audience. As a 90-minute distraction piece Ballerina ticks all the right boxes. It’s a simple, paint-by-numbers kids movie that will entertain kids and leave adults bored.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★ / Movie: ★★