Leo Review

Adam Sandler is sometimes accused of creating a movie for children, to give the impression that his comedies are produced by real kids. Nevertheless, Adam Sandler has delivered mixed results with family oriented animations in the past despite being a star whose youth appeal is so strong that it often appears as if his comedies are made by children themselves. His Hotel Transylvania series is famous, but it is characters like animator Genndy Tartakovsky who created their peak moments rather than dads-gonna-dad jokes from Happy Madison. (However, he did not see this way and quitted after the third instalment in the franchise.) On his own in animation land, Sandler has given us things such as 2002 holiday cartoon Eight Crazy Nights which flopped because it had all the crudities of toilet humor present in his live-action films without any of their oddball charm. It may be pointless to try and cater for children when your film can be described as juvenile.

Nevertheless there’s been another shot at making younger audience fall in love with Sandman through his Netflix deal. Owing to playing an old man boyishly, Sandler goes young: He impersonates Leonardo, an Iguana that’s been sitting lazily around since Truman era as a class pet for fifth graders yelling guttural squawks. Sitting still with his new best friend – Squirtle (Bill Burr) – Leo now experiences almost every single child going through this last year at school leaving him behind – until he suspects that he might be near end-of-life and hasn’t done much about it at all. However, things take different shape when Mrs Malkin (Cecily Strong), a stern-faced lady who never smiles becomes a long-standing substitute teacher for one class and insists on reviving an old practice whereby pupils take home class pets so they could learn how to become responsible individuals: Leo sees this as an opportunity to plan his escape.

The co-pilot at the controls of this seemingly routine assignment is Robert Smigel, a former writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien and Saturday Night Live best known for creating material that is deceptively family-friendly, like his Triumph the Insult Comic Dog puppet character or his SNL TV Funhouse animated segments. (There was even a short-lived Comedy Central TV Funhouse series where puppets hosted even more grotesque humor.) Meanwhile, Sandler collaborated with Paul Sado and Smigel to write the movie with Smigel also serving as a director together with David Wachtenheim and Robert Marianetti who were part of the TV Funhouse veterans. It looks like Sandler has produced mundane and Illumination-like character designs as a way of ensuring that he does not get any further objections from stylists on a Tartakovsky level.

Leo Trailer

On the surface, Leo bucks some common animation tropes. Rather than sending an unworldly reptile on an adventure through nature or having him meet a special child to connect with, however, the film adopts an engagingly cunning structure:Leo goes home with a fifth-grader every weekend, tries to run away, accidentally speaks, and ends up giving grown-up advice to confused kids in Mrs. Malkin’s new strict classroom that may even seem like the wise words of an aged person. It is clever and even surprising contrast which punctured by Smigel and Co.’s mockery of formalism that runs through many major cartoon films. In one scene a family of one kid breaks into a song – musical music that will feature at least six (6) songs – but camera changes another room where this song could still be heard from another side of the wall. They are aware of this and gladly don’t care about it, Leo speaks just because he can communicate without any explanation or condition as to why he understands people or how people understand him. He keeps quiet when around human beings reminding them that if they know that he speaks they will “try killing him like E.T.”

With his satirical approach to You Don’t Mess with the Zohan or The Week Of – two excellent comedies by Sandler -, Smigel is surely expected to create something conceptual here too. But so does Leo, such as The Week Of, have a gentle observational humor that allows it to treat children and raising them with some wry affection — thus making fun of helicopter parenting with an over attentive drone, or mocking family ownership through a life-lesson song about how no one is actually good. Sometimes it is reminiscent of Simpson episodes for children in terms of its understanding of classroom peculiarities and its ability to touch readers/viewers across different age groups.

Basically, though, what we get is an almost blatant allegory concerning the importance of teachers combined with comedy vanity: yet again everyone loves Sandler throughout the entire film but this time for his plain-spoken wisdom. Nevertheless, this narcissism may be excused since it has been brought out clearly in the narrative arc directed towards Leo’s need for affection. Less explicit is the film’s meditation on old age: Leo’s advice to these almost teenagers offers a sad awareness of their fleeting childhood happiness. Now, one might think that this is too deep for a kids’ movie but Leo has a silly sense of humor that never wavers throughout and makes this one of best comedies of the year, animated or not. His inner child and outer grown up have never been more aligned.


Although it may resemble another typical mainstream Netflix animation copy off, Leo is far funnier than many children-targeted animations which it is actually an average example of. Essentially, it is one of the funniest films made in 2018 that also serves as an ode to teaching children, both within and outside school by Robert Smigel with Adam Sandler.

Watch Leo Movie on Kisscartoon

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