A 74-year-old lizard named Leo and his turtle friend decide to escape from the terrarium of a Florida school classroom where they have been living for decades.
I really liked Adam Sandler’s animated feature “Leo,” I mean I really liked it! It was charming, funny, uplifting, and brisk…until it wasn’t. It’s a shame this family-friendly feature took a left turn into predictability with its third act as it contains a pertinent message that needs to be heard as well as a dual-pronged sense of humor that appeals to both children and adults. That almost proves to be enough.
Stuck in a terrarium in a 5th grade classroom his entire life, Leo (Sandler) doesn’t know what he’s been missing. The lizard is content to sit through another year of watching a new group of students attempt to deal with the inherent drama each 11-year-old must contend with. It’s only after a parent makes an offhand comment that lizards of Leo’s sort live to be 75, and our hero figures out he’s 74, that a sense of urgency sets in. Suddenly, he longs to break out and experience the world. Fate, and screenwriters Robert Smigel, Paul Sado and Sandler provide him with the opportunity to do so.
Long-term substitute teacher Ms. Malkin (Cecily Strong) has a policy in which each student in the class takes Leo home for one weekend and cares for him. This is done to teach them responsibility, but the kids get so much more. Leo reveals that he can talk and once each child gets over their initial shock, they begin to share their troubles with their lizard-confessor. In return, Leo dispenses sage wisdom that helps them deal with their woes.
The song’s Leo uses to dispense his advice are quite funny, made more so by the creaky, old man voice Sandler uses. The sentiment isn’t laid on too thick and the humor, much of it effectively provided by Bill Burr as Squirtle, a curmudgeonly turtle is effective as are some of the inspired sight gags. The film is unabashedly sweet, and I found myself smiling repeatedly during its first hour.
However, the Idea Well must have gone dry, as the final 30 minutes consists of nothing but tired slapstick and labored storytelling. Circumstances occur in which Leo finds himself alone in the Everglades, combating alligators at every turn, the kids hijacking a school bus to come to the rescue. Manic, uninspired, and tiresome, this by-the-number conclusion is a regrettable conclusion to what had the potential to be truly special. To be sure, the kids will be engaged from beginning to end, but those over 12 will likely find their attention wandering back to “Leo’s” inspired beginning.