As far as your creative action-packed musical fantasy cartoons go Ballerina is brilliant! However there are a few gaffe’s to overcome or in ballet terminology ‘pas-de-chat’ (meaning to step over the cat). Ballerina is an amicable English-language French-Canadian computer animated adventure about the concept of following your dreams.
In a nutshell it’s about a young orphan girl called Felicie chasing her dream against all the odds to gain a lead role in the Nutcracker, it’s like ‘Glee’ without the soundtrack. Watch out for wonderful footage of Felicie attempting a grand jete, learning the discipline of ballet positions and of course what happens when you go on pointe in the biggest audition of your life after a big night out on the town without warming up your feet… ouch!
The cartoon uses its artistic historical license to the full! If you have an irascible child who specializes in dance or Parisian history avoid this film, the worst timeline gaffe’s being: The Nutcracker that Felicie auditions for was actually not invented in 1880 when Ballerina is roughly set, Nutcracker opened in 1892 in St Petersburg Russia and didn’t come to Paris for years. The cartoon character Louis Alexandre Mérante (1828-1887), was a real life ballet dancer and choreographer and went on to be the first Ballet master/choreographer of the Paris Opera Ballet, but he was old in 1880 not young as the cartoon depicts him. Whatever! The angry ‘gym scene’ featuring rival dancer Camille Le Haut feverishly working her hamstrings on the weight pulley system isn’t so much 1880 more 1980 complete with headband! Again.. Whatever! Just enjoy the film visuals and passions.
Interestingly, what I didn’t like about the film was totally unexpected. Seeing a young runaway orphan girl running around Paris alone, scrubbing floors, sleeping rough, dancing on tables all night one can’t help but ask the question: ‘In 2017 is this cartoon socially responsible? Does it contain an orphan gaffe?’
As an adopted child myself who has just celebrated another January birthday, I can endorse the importance of correctly leaving an orphanage through government systems and into a ‘forever family’, or into a stable and supportive home setting thus allowing one to follow life callings and dreams in a nourishing environment.
In todays climate of child abuse, neglect and homelessness the filmmakers I believe could have discussed this story with a childcare specialist for example to gage their reaction pre-production. The cartoon could have been a ‘great opportunity’ to engage positively to the thousands of young people who runaway from homes every year seeking a better life to think twice. There is nothing wrong with following your dreams but running away seems glamourous as the cartoon advocates, instead of discussing the obvious immediate question that any runaway has to answer
‘What am I now running too?’
The cartoon fails to show the reality of being a child in an adult world. The fear and the trauma of what a child has previously suffered that put them in an orphanage in the first place is just compounding the misery and hopelessness of now being a ‘runaway’ and the catastrophes that accompany that state. It is not uncommon for aid workers who run orphanages in third world countries like Burma, to have to warn children NOT to play outside the orphanage gates from fear they will snatched by child traffickers at best, or murdered then have their body butchered and their parts sold to hospitals.
So why the film team failed to discuss their challenging complex emotional storyline with someone equipped to engage with the complexities and dance lifestyle I have no idea. Sometimes truth is stranger the fiction and adoptee and professional dancer Michaela De Prince who now dances for the Dutch National Ballet springs to mind. Her story perfectly depicts the full plethora of emotions and fortuitous circumstances as her life journey took her from an orphanage in Sierra Leone, to being adopted to America to eventually becoming a principal ballerina. Now that’s a dream come true!
There is nothing wrong with using the ‘orphan’ theme in a film storyline it just requires sensitivity, fortitude and understanding. The much-loved and revered Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist comes to mind) understood his society and used his writing to socially commentate on the disparate situation of the poor set against the avaricious and malevolent rich. Excellent narration is one thing but a strong sense of social justice is another.
Felicie eventually returns back to the orphanage her passion for dance destroyed as she realises that as a child she is unable to combine her job as a cleaner with the intense training required as a dancer, personal life issues and rehearsal schedule all at once. Ironically it is the orphanage manager who surreptitiously helps her return to the Paris Ballet to fulfill her dreams and try again, an authorative character who she originally ran from deeming scary and mean at the beginning of the cartoon, she now realises is on her side and wants her to succeed. Sometimes this is true as a child we think everyone is against us but sometimes adults are there to protect vulnerabilities and dreams, this was a touching moment in the cartoon (at last!)
The bottom line of this cartoon to any vulnerable child is if you are unhappy with your current life situation then it’s OK to run away and seek your dreams. This is a frightening encouragement and a film that is endorsed by the Royal Ballet and is being enjoyed by many children, I am sad that they failed to do a little more homework on their storyline.
This cartoon is in my opinion holds an ‘orphan gaffe’ warning and let’s hope that future cartoon makers will tap their moral compass prior to project embarkation to produce something progressive, less whimsical and inspirational for young minds to engage with.
Michaela De Prince: Hope in a Ballet Shoe