Adam Sandler's 'Leo' Is Goofily Heartfelt

Directed by Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and David Wachtenheim

Starring Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Rob Schneider, Jo Koy, Allison Strong, Jackie Sandler, Heidi Gardner, Robert Smigel, Nick Swardson, Stephanie Hsu

Photo courtesy of Netflix

BY Vish KhannaPublished Nov 21, 2023

In a wonderfully whimsical and laugh-out-loud animated film about intergenerational wisdom and communication, Adam Sandler and his old pal Robert Smigel have created a hilarious, family-friendly comedy in Leo

Featuring great voice acting performances by Sandler, Smigel, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Heidi Gardner, and Sandler's own daughters, Sadie and Sunny Sandler, Leo strikes a nice balance of entertaining adults and children alike. 

And, surprise — it's a musical.

Sandler (Adam, that is) plays Leo, an ancient lizard who lives in an elementary classroom terrarium with his friend Squirtle, an unfortunately named turtle played by Burr. Over seven decades, Leo has seen it all, with kids graduating from elementary school at different points in history and through evolving sociocultural norms. Still, from his perspective, kids are kids, and their personal problems are often rooted in specific but universal experiences. 

When a couple of dads at a parent-teacher meeting suggest that a lizard of Leo's vintage might not have many years left to live, it sends him into a literal tailspin. The classroom is already going through some temporal turmoil, after their beloved teacher Mrs. Salinas (Allison Strong) announces she's going on maternity leave, and her substitute is an old-school educator and senior named Mrs. Malkin (Cecily Strong).

It's all enough for Leo to plot his escape from the school so that he can really and truly live a grand life and see the world. When Mrs. Malkin suggests every student is required to bring one of the class pets home for one weekend each, Leo sees his opportunity to abandon these field trips and flee. But, after just one visit with a sad, troubled or otherwise alienated child, he reveals that he can actually talk and, after the shock of this revelation wears off, each student grows to love Leo and themselves a little more, thanks to his astute and specific advice.

He tells them that they are special for provoking him to communicate in English, but that their relationship must remain a secret from everyone else, which of course, puts him on perilous ground with not only the students and his fellow animals, but also with Mrs. Malkin.

Full of silly sight gags, some potty humour, very funny songs and at least one sly allusion to a prominent NSFW website for adults who love celebrities, Leo is a heartfelt and touching coming-of-age story where loneliness and existential angst are explored by sharp, clever comedians with an eye and ear for absurdity. Its song sequences give it a unique emotional tenor, as it tells a fantastical tale about being young and growing old, and how similarly strange, frightening and joyous both things can be, for everybody.

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