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November 21, 2023 / Netflix

Starring: Adam Sandler, Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Rob Schneider

Directed By: Robert Smigel, Robert Marianetti, David Wachtenheim

Actor and comedian Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania, The Wedding Singer) delivers signature laughs in this coming-of-age animated musical comedy about the last year of elementary school – as seen through the eyes of a class pet. Jaded 74-year-old lizard Leo (Sandler) has been stuck in the same Florida classroom for decades with his terrarium-mate turtle (Bill Burr). When he learns he only has one year left to live, he plans to escape to experience life on the outside but instead gets caught up in the problems of his anxious students — including an impossibly mean substitute teacher. It ends up being the strangest but most rewarding bucket list ever…

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Leo wears its heart on its sleeve in this crowd pleasing, heart warming and hilarious family comedy that benefits from a strong lead voice performance from Adam Sandler and an important message for younger viewers that is told with grace and understanding.

Adam Sandler is known for his comedic roles, normally helping to bring to life hilarious but silly comedies. He has done romantic comedies, with films like The Wedding Singer and Just Go With It, straight up goofy comedies for adults including Happy Gilmore and Grown Ups, and even family centric comedies like Hotel Transylvania and this year’s You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah. While his comedies are not known for their heart, he does occasionally surprise with the odd film that will tug on audiences’ heart strings, and Leo is one of those comedies. It’s another winning collaboration between Netflix and Sandler that is bound to be a hit with families this holiday season.

Leo is happy being the classroom pet, that is until he learns from one of the students that lizards only live to be seventy-five years old, and he only has one more year to live. In hopes of pursuing his dreams of seeing the Everglades, Leo goes home with the children in his class for the weekend with the intention of breaking out and escaping to the Everglades. But when the children discover that Leo can talk and understand them, they begin to divulge their struggles to him, which Leo helps them work through. With each additional child he helps, Leo must decide what he wants in life more: seeing the Everglades, or being there for his children.

It comes as no surprise that an Adam Sandler film is full of laughter, as he is known for his comedic talents. Being a family film, there is lots of Sandler’s signature potty humour that will have younger audiences bursting into laugher and for the most part, it's not so incredibly silly that older viewers won’t enjoy these comedic moments either. The songs are fun and humorous, even if not every single one of them lands, but they are well suited to the animated genre while calling back to Sandler’s songs in The Wedding Singer. Without question, the best comedic gag of the film is the kindergarteners who are like a pack of puppies. Their big eyes and heads in proportion to their small bodies sets them up to be cute, but the pack-like mentality of them, the incoherent gibberish sounds they make and the fact that they are constantly chewing on something ensures that every time they appear on screen, the laughter hits a high. At the same time, there are lots of great jokes for older viewers, either making fun of a pop culture moment or a more inappropriate joke that will go over younger viewer’s heads, ensuring that this film is just as much fun for parents to watch as it is for their children.

What makes Leo such a special animated comedy is the messaging it has for younger viewers. Mental health is an important topic these days, especially for children who are struggling and do not know how to manage these feelings. And the message at the heart of Leo is to share your struggles, talk about them and not be afraid to share how you are feeling. Leo helps all of the children in his class through their struggles, allowing the children to create a special bond of friendship where they feel comfortable to talk about their challenges and emotions despite feeling like they have to pretend like nothing is wrong. It’s an important message for younger viewers to hear, and it’s handled with such grace and respect in this film that it is sure to help younger viewers feel more comfortable having these important conversations. Compared to most animated family films these days which are largely about entertainment value and missing such strong messaging, it was truly a delightful surprise to see Leo tackle such an important subject matter in an accessible way for younger viewers.

Leading the film is Sandler as Leo with an excellent voice performance. With the titular lizard being 74 years old, Sandler evokes a cranky old man with his voice that fits the character like a shoe. Beneath the jaded rasp of his voice, Sandler brings a warmth and understanding to Leo that makes him the devoted friend of all the children in his class, creating one of the most memorable animated characters of the year. Bill Burr is Sandler’s main co-star as Squirtle the Turtle, and the two of them have a wonderful comedic banter between them that brings lots of fun moments to the film. The rest of the cast is made up of some wonderful talent including Cecily Strong, Rob Schneider, Jo Koy, Stephanie Hsu and Kevin Hames as the parents and faculty of the school, with Sadie and Sunny Sandler portraying the two main girls that Leo connects with, Jayda and Summer, ensuring that every minute of this film is full of good voice performances.

As he has proven time and time again, you should never underestimate Adam Sandler and his ability to pick some truly wonderful projects to be attached to. For every film that has you questioning why you watch his films, there are always two or three great ones following it to remind you of what a great comedian he is, and Leo is one of those films that will make you a fan of Sandler again. With an overwhelming amount of heart as it tackles mental health in children in an accessible, hilarious and truly entertaining fashion, Adam Sandler delivers a great voice performance and sets Leo up to be a sure fire hit with families.

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