Leo REVIEW – A Warmhearted Reptile Flick

Who knew a movie centred around a lizard could exude such warmth?


Leo is a surprising find of 2023. It’s not going to win any awards – the animation and visuals aren’t anything to write home about, though the googly-eyed, crazed younger kids swarming everything in sight constantly is kind of funny – but it’s a pretty heartwarming film. I think that’s sometimes what we get with Happy Madison movies: films that are feel-good but not necessarily critical hits.

Leo (Adam Sandler) the lizard has been a classroom pet for 70 over years. He’s never really lived, merely existed as classroom scenery. So after a parent makes a throwaway comment about lizards only living till 75, and Leo figures out he’s 74, he decides that he’s going to seize opportunities to escape when a student from the class takes him home over the weekend. Things don’t go exactly to plan, since Leo accidentally reveals he can talk to one of them, and his plans of escape are sidelined in his quest to help the students deal with their various struggles.

The movie is really about the powerful lessons we can learn from the classroom, be it learning to socialise, communicate, empathesize, as well as develop a sense of agency. As an educator, of course the movie resonated with me, because it fleshes out how a good teacher can be so impactful. It’s kind of like the animated version of School of Rock. Basically, if you empower young people to believe in themselves, they can achieve great things. However, as much as I enjoyed this, I’m not quite sure which demographic this movie is aiming to target. It feels more like something built more for adults than young children, parents specifically, but since parents tend to watch animated movies with their younger children, it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity.

Leo dives into the pitfalls that may trip up the modern parent. There’s a child who’s so coddled by his parents that he has to wear a hazmat suit when he has friends over, as well as a drone that follows him everywhere and takes care of his every need. It takes Helicopter Parenting to a whole new level. And when Summer (Sunny Sandler) is excitedly sharing her day with her parents, they’re both exhausted and passed out on the couch, too tired to even engage with her. Summer overcompensates by talking too much, and it’s saying something that she never learned to moderate herself amongst her peers. Are parents equipping their children with the necessary skills to survive in society? Summer’s parents aren’t really present, Jayda’s (Sadie Sandler) privilege has made her unlikeable, and Mia’s (Reese Lores) parents are going through a divorce which has made things difficult for her.

So even though Leo thought that his life could only be meaningful if he had grand adventures and saw more of the world, much like how some of us might perceive things, his connection and shared moments with the students ultimately mean so much more. The message and the way it’s portrayed isn’t exactly unique, but sometimes an entertaining movie to watch with your family over the weekend is really all we need.

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Leo stresses the importance of the lessons we learn in the classroom, and has enough feel-good charm to overcome its formulaic structure.