Directed By Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and Davis Wachtenheim

Starring – Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong

The Plot – The last year of elementary school as seen through the eyes of a class pet. A jaded 74-year-old lizard named Leo (Sandler) has been stuck in the same Florida classroom for decades with his turtle terrarium-mate (Burr). When he learns that he only has one year left to live, he plans to escape to experience life on the outside, but instead gets caught up in his anxious students’ problems, such as an impossibly mean substitute teacher (Strong).

Rated PG for rude/suggestive material and some adult language

Leo | Official Trailer | Netflix – YouTube


Once in a while, an animated film comes along that not only charms you with its abundance of energetic charisma and personality, but also enlightens you to the kind of vital life lessons that it can effortlessly inscribe to its youthful audience. “Leo” is definitely that film, and one that makes us feel as close as possible to being one of Sandler’s own children, as he gently and sincerely conveys a lifetime of lessons and experience through the depths of a 74-year-old lizard, with an approach to storytelling that isn’t mindless or manipulative. While the commentary does occasionally feel meandering towards one particular demographic, as it unloads on everything from Covid protocols to cancel culture, there’s no shortage of creativity in the way it depicts child psychologies, both in the essence of selflessness being the tie that binds them, as well as versatility in their designs, which the movie spends ample time inside of its 91 minute run time properly fleshing out. The results are tremendous, as the characters, human and non, are very easy to invest in, with each pertaining their own respective internal conflict that echoes care and concern as the only remedies, but beyond that an entertainment value in consistency that never sacrifices its humor for poignancy. This is where there’s plenty of value for kids and adults alike, as clever punchlines resonating dual meanings conveys a brilliance among gags that never require flatulence to their benefit, instead harvesting these satirical gags that feels like a by-product of the “Family Guy” age of flashback humor. The performances also glow with radiance, as Sandler once again proves his vocal depth and versatility as the film’s titular protagonist, and alongside comedian Bill Burr, the two harvest a naturalistic sense of lived-in chemistry that taps into many decades spent in confinement between them. While Sandler is obviously the commander to many of these scenes, with groggy tonal consistency that pays off tremendously towards his impeccable comedic timing, Burr is just as prominent, conveying a stern sense of sarcastic observation that he has otherwise made a career out of on-stage, which feel perfect for the confines and predicament of a turtle. Aside from this, the animation is breathtakingly beautiful for Netflix Animation and Animal Logic, respectively, with three-dimensional detail in character designs and vivid expressions, as well as bubbly color schemes that make this a dream to experience. The biggest triumph in this regard is easily that of the scales and movement of the titular lizard, but the barrage of visual sight gags leave plenty for every frame to lavishly indulge upon, solidifying what just might be the single best animated illustrations ever put to streaming. Lastly, the film is tremendously paced throughout a 91 minute run time that never even remotely dragged or tested my investment to the narrative. This is especially the case for the first act, which gets off to a white hot start with razor sharp punchlines and consistency to editing that constantly keeps the story moving, but also in the urgency of the third act climax, which with some emotional beats in tow, outline an endearing conflict that feels most reflective of Leo’s unshakeable value to his human contemporaries.


A couple of key disappointing choices unfortunately keep “Leo” from being among top tier animation properties, primarily with the script, which forces certain aspects to the outline out of what can only be described as pure obligation. For starters, “Leo” is a musical of sorts, with instrumentally imbalanced numbers lacking creativity or connectivity in addicting elements to make them a necessity to the involvement of the picture. While the issues with the music themselves are bad enough, the way they’re forced into the intergrity of every accommodating scene or sequence is so much more problematic, abruptly interrupting such vital interaction between characters for musical accompanyment that only further echoes what we’re learning from the same scene. If the music had even an addictive quality to its appeal, then I could go along with the gimmick, but “Leo” is one kids movie that doesn’t feel like it needs the surplus of songs attached to its creativity, which only prolongs scenes to pad its way to a feature length run time. On top of this, my other issue with the script pertains to the execution of its fragile plot device, which is entirely forgotten by film’s end. Considering the entirety of the movie revolves around the final year in the life of this school lizard, the lack of evidence of his condition or inevitability of his character’s direction feels a bit underwhelming in the emotional department, especially since this film’s themes and Sandler’s sensitive performance already come so close to the breakthrough needed to reach rare territory with emotionality for kids movies. While it could easily be construed as a predictable element to the character’s evolution, not addressing it instead solidifies the resolution with an air of neat and tidy convenience that was more concerned with being a crowd pleaser, instead of a responsible slice of life, in turn wasting away the dramatic impact that it worked so hard to secure.

“Leo” slithers its way to one poignantly thought-provoking engagement made charming, with top tier animation and invigorating insight, that parents will appreciate and kids will learn from. Despite the flaws of forcefully abrupt musical numbers and a tenderly urgent framing device that ultimately goes nowhere, the limitless heart deployed by Sandler is the film’s saving grace, with blankets of wisdom that he instills upon us with the sweetly sincere but stern urgency of a parent with a lifetime of experiences, garnering sentimentality for everything the character lacks in size.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

3 thoughts on “Leo

  1. Love your score and review for this! I am 2 for 2 on Adam Sandler movies I’ve enjoyed this year! I agree that the musical type songs were SO out of place! It was as left field every time. The only one I appreciated was the When I Was 10 one. I think this is a great one for families where adults and kids can enjoy it together. I at least hope kids these days would enjoy it! Great job!

    1. This is another film I would never have heard of if I was not a member of The Film Freak. I adore Adam Sandler and look forward to watching this film. Thank you for another beautifully written review.

  2. Almost forgot to comment on this, and I gotta say that I really enjoying reading your thoughts on a movie that I think surprised us both. Between the strong balance of humor and heart with one never overpowering the other and the life lesson that will resonate with kids as well as adults, this is a lot deeper than the trailers made it look like intially. I still think the animation is a little subpar and the we both agree the music is kind of pointless and only pads out the runtime. Still, this was a decent watch and your review was a great read. Nice job!

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