In their last year of elementary school, a class learns that their beloved teacher Mrs. Salinas (voice of Allison Strong) will be going on maternity leave and begin to discuss all the ways they can take advantage of a substitute. But when the short, squat and stern Ms. Malkin (voice of Cecily Strong) enters the room with brass knuckles in tow, the class swallows a collective gulp. She immediately changes the rules, informing them that someone will have to take a class pet home every weekend, but when Summer (voice of Sunny Sandler) gets the first gig, she’ll learn the advantages of befriending the 74 year-old lizard named “Leo.”
Laura's Review: B
The second Sandler family project of the year after “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah” puts dad Adam back in the spotlight as a lizard who’s just learned of his own mortality (his breed has a lifespan of 75) in a charming animation that casts him as part fairy godmother and part inspirational teacher. “Leo” is from SNL alumni like directors Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel (whose kids voice multiple characters) and David Wachtenheim with a script by Sandler, his SNL colleague Robert Smigel and "The Cobbler's" Paul Sado, but the film’s character is all Sandler.
Everything kicks off with a witty musical number (songs by Sandler and Smigel) where each 5th grader opines about the coming year before making their way through the younger kids (amusingly pictured as crazy-eyed round balls of energy) and into the classroom watched over by the old lizard and his terrarium-mate Squirtle (voice of Bill Burr) the turtle. After learning lizards live to 75, Leo, who knows he was born in 1949 but cannot figure out his age, zaps the fire alarm with his tongue in order to consult with the 2nd grade pet Cinnabun (voice of Nick Swardsdon) who’s sat through many a basic math class. Alarmed with the result, Leo becomes focused on escaping out into the wild for his final days.
Ensconced in Summer’s bedroom, Leo struggles out of his container and slowly – very slowly – makes his way toward her open window, but the little girl returns from dinner and catches him speaking. Pleading with her to keep his secret and telling her how she will be a special friend, Leo gently suggests that instead of chattering about herself non-stop, she might make more friends by asking others about themselves. Back in school, Leo’s advice works like a charm, the class rich girl, Jayda (voice of Sadie Sandler), inviting her to a party. The following weekend, Malkin is shocked when Summer volunteers again, but Leo will go home this time with Eli (voice of Roey Smigel), the rich boy whose only friend is his ever present drone, who he gifts with an attention-getting party trick.
Leo will continually repeat his magic, changing the lives of every kid he encounters (and losing his tail to a Roomba), even forgoing his one true chance at escape when he convinces Jayda’s party-goers to let all the entertainment animals go free. But when he’s caught out as having told every kid they were his special friend, he’s overheard by Malkin who tries to regain control of her class by abandoning him in the Everglades.
The film’s brightly colored animation features plenty of visual wit and the writers ensure that more than half a dozen kids have distinct personalities, from class bully Anthony (voice of Ethan Smigel) to falsetto voiced Cole (voices of Bryant Tardy, Corey J and Carson Minniear). Squirtle has his own little jealousy side plot and Malkin, too, learns from Leo. Song lyrics are by turns funny, Eli yearning to ‘wipe his own butt from time to time,’ teachable, Jayda learning her family is ‘not that great,’ and sweet as in the lullaby ‘Don’t Cry.’
“Leo” is a great little animated musical comedy for the whole family from the Sandler family (matriarch Jackie voices Jayda’s mom), who’ve really delivered for Netflix this year.
Robin's Review: B
An iguana and a turtle spend their long lives in a schoolroom aquarium, ignored by fifth graders for their many years. When substitute teacher Ms. Malkin (Cecily Strong) takes over the class, she assigns each student to take care of the creatures on the weekends, especially “Leo.”
Leo the Iguana (Adam Sandler) has learned that the life expectancy for his species is 75 years. Through careful calculations, he and his best bud, Squirtle (Bill Burr), figure out he is 74 years old. Feeling the hand of the grim reaper on his shoulder, Leo plans to escape his prison and live life to its fullest. That is the plan, at least.
Instead, though, the two reptiles find themselves in the care of each of the fifth graders over the weekends. Leo, who, unbeknownst to everyone except Squirtle, can speak. He makes the mistake of doing so with his first caretaker, chatterbox Summer (Sunny Sandler), who almost blows his carefully hidden secret. He begins to offer “suggestions” to the talkative preteen to help her make friends, And, it works!
As the school year rolls by, Leo offers his sage advice to the other kids in the class, but making sure they keep his secret a secret. Soon, he and Squirtle are helping all of the kids deal with their various problems and personal issues. They even help the gruff and curmudgeonly Ms. Malkin, whose life as a substitute has been one of being ignored and not treated as a real “teacher.” The reptiles help her turn her life around, too.
“Leo,” of course, is squarely aimed at the kid crowd and hits its bull’s eye squarely. But, as expected from the creative minds of writers Robert Smigel (also co-director), Adam Sandler and Paul Sado, there are enough adult-level gags to satisfy the parents who accompany their kids. It is also just as satisfying to us adults without kids That says a lot.
A clever animation that talks honestly about kids and growing up – and still entertain the older crowd – is a positive thing in this negative world. I hope the spirit of “Leo” works well into the holidays and it just might.
"Leo" begins streaming on Netflix on 11/21/23.