The Inventor

I’m not sure who the target audience is for The Inventor. Ostensibly it exists to help children understand the work of Leonardo da Vinci, but they’ll be bored by the disjointed story. Adults are likely to be put off by the shallow treatment of the topic, as well as the attempts to make it palatable with lame kid-friendly humor. Ultimately, the movie exists in a weird in-between state where it’s too sophisticated for young viewers and not sophisticated enough for older ones.

The film opens with da Vinci (voiced by Stephen Fry) in Italy. He wants to explore the notion of a soul residing inside the human body and what it might represent. That offends Pope Leo X (Matt Berry), who will condone no such thought. When an offer arrives to venture to France, da Vinci jumps at it. There, he agrees to help find a suitable location for a palace Francis I (Gauthier Battoue) intends to build as a means of demonstrating his power. A change of location stirs his creativity in other ways, leading da Vinci to dream up new ideas. He receives encouragement from the king’s sister, Princess Marguerite (Daisy Ridley), and is pressured to use his talents for less altruistic purposes by his mother, Louise de Savoy (Marion Cotillard).

Maybe The Inventor would have worked had it stuck with that idea. Instead, the plot goes off on a bunch of tangents in which da Vinci builds other things and continues focusing on the concept of a soul. The movie, directed by Ratatouille writer Jim Capobianco, tosses in Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, the Vitruvian Man, and more, without actually doing anything substantive with them. There’s no rhyme or reason to the story. It’s mostly a “greatest hits” package that fails to convey the significance behind any of its central figure’s accomplishments.

The stop-motion animation is the most appealing aspect of the movie. It’s intentionally designed as a low-fi throwback to the classic Rankin-Bass productions. That proves charming. Just looking at The Inventor is fun. Animated features have become so visually complex that there’s something soothing about one with a pared-down approach. That said, it’s weird that the film intermittently and perplexingly goes into traditional 2D animation for certain scenes. Sticking with the stop-motion throughout would have been better.

I could overlook that if the plot wasn’t such a mess. The groundbreaking nature of Leonardo da Vinci’s output clashes with the goofy broad tone The Inventor seems intent on establishing. Consequently, you end up with a picture that looks great but doesn’t do its subject justice.

out of four

The Inventor is rated PG for some thematic elements and nude art images. The running time is 1 hour and 39 minutes.