Jim Capobianco who earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for writing the delightful Ratatouille takes on the later years of Leonardo da Vinci in his directorial debut. His engaging animated feature uses a combination of stop-motion puppets and hand drawn animation. Set in the French court during the time of King Francis I who had invited da Vinci to be in residence, the film presents an aged da Vinci turning his endlessly curious mind to one of humanity’s greatest questions:  “What is the meaning of life?”

As the film begins da Vinci is still in Italy, but his benefactor Pope Leo X is becoming less and less enamored of his insatiable curiosity. The Church really doesn’t like that he is questioning everything. and cutting open corpses to find out what is inside. And so he takes up Francis’s offer to be his new benefactor and moves to France. While Francis is appreciative of da Vinci’s wild imagination, he wants to use it to build France’s defenses. Where da Vinci  finds a kindred spirit is in Francis’s sister, Princess Marguerite. Together they dream up a great “Ideal City” that will impress the world. And it is amazing! Truly centuries ahead of its time.

But while all this building and imagining and talks of war machines with Francis and his stern mother Louise de Savoy are going on, da Vinci is also taking time to explore his big question about the meaning of life.

Most of the history presented in the film is true. Capobianco has been a da Vinci aficionado for a very long time, having directed an animated short called Leonardo in 2009. “It took me ten-years to make that short and I never thought I would do anything with Leonardo again, but I guess he gets in your DNA, your blood.”  He spent twelve years getting this one to the screen, and was fortunate to attract a great voice acting cast. Stephen Fry (Gosford Park) voices da Vinci, with Daisy Ridley (The Star Wars franchise) as Marguerite and Marion Cotillard (Rust and Bone, Annette) as Francis’s mother. Less well know but equally entertaining is Gauthier Battoue who voices Francis.

The film’s target audience is children and they will find plenty to keep them entertained, from the fabulous animations to the realistic moving metal animals and flying machines that da Vinci dreams up, to several musical numbers that their parents may find a bit too uninspired. But one hopes that children who see it will be inspired by a man who questioned everything, created with abandon, and left behind great art and a ton of notebooks full of crazy genius ideas.

Opening in limited release

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