“LEO” is a 2023 American animated musical comedy film directed by Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel and David Wachtenheim (in Marianetti and Wachtenheim’s feature directorial debuts), it was written by Smigel, Adam Sandler, and Paul Sado, and produced by Sandler and Mireille Soria. This movie is the second animated feature from Sandler’s production company Happy Madison Productions, it stars him as “Leo” the main character who is a 74-year-old tuatara, alongside Bill Burr, Cecily Strong, Jason Alexander, Sadie Sandler, Sunny Sandler, Rob Schneider, Jo Koy, Allison Strong, Jackie Sandler, Heidi Gardner, Robert Smigel, and Nick Swardson. It tells the story of a tuatara longing for the wild and worried about dying who is taken home by different students per the assignment of a strict substitute teacher.

 The movie was released by Netflix on November 21, 2023 to generally positive reviews.

The movie opens in Florida, Leo, who is a tuatara, a specie of lizard and his best friend and companion, Squirtle, a  turtle are the class pets of a fifth-grade classroom at a school called  “Fort Myers Elementary School”,  and they are prepared for another year with a new set of students. During a parent-teacher conference night, where the students’ pregnant teacher, Mrs. Salinas, announces that she must go on maternity leave, Leo overhears one of the student’s parents say that he’s old, making him despair that he never accomplished anything with his life. The next day, Ms. Malkin, the students’ strict, no-nonsense substitute, arrives and is quickly loathed by the students. She later instructs the class that every weekend, each student will choose one of the class pets to go home with and take care of it throughout and bring it back by Monday.

Leo is taken home for the weekend by Summer, a girl who is highly talkative. While trying to make his escape, Leo accidentally reveals to Summer that he can talk, and suggests to her that she ask more questions after saying that her constant talking tires everyone out. As a result, Summer becomes more popular among her classmates. After that, for the next weekend, Summer wanted to still take the lizard but the teacher assigned the lizard to another student.

Soon enough, the students begin to request that they take Leo home with them, where they share with him their own personal dilemmas, to which Leo offers them life advice. Before long, each of the students have taken Leo home with them and offer them their phones so that they can keep in touch with him.

Fed up with the attention Leo is getting, his jealous friend, Squirtle, decides to expose Leo by revealing that he can speak to all of them, as he lied that the only ones who could understand him are the ones he was taken home with. Feeling betrayed by this revelation, they decide to disregard him, and Ms. Malkin, having caught on that Leo can talk and that the students’ changes in behaviour are the result of his advice, decides to take him to her home.

While at Ms. Malkin’s home, Leo learns that the reason she’s grouchy is because she never got to accomplish her dream of being a real teacher, always getting relegated to being a substitute. The next day, the school is having a history fare, and the students manage to win the grand prize of a field trip to Magic Land Park with their re-enactments of famous historical figures. When she is praised for her work, Ms. Malkin, wanting to take all the credit, decides to abandon Leo at the Everglades, and proceeds to lie to the students by telling them that he abandoned them, much to their dismay, as they had wanted to apologize to him.

As the students head to Magic Land Park, Squirtle catches up with them and reveals that Ms. Malkin lied about Leo, to which she confesses. Upon arriving at Magic Land Park, the students and Ms. Malkin hijack the bus so they can drive to the Everglades. Meanwhile, Leo, while trying to fit in with the wild animals, learns from other lizards that he can live to be more than 75 years old, reinvigorating him. While trying to find a way out, he suddenly encounters a congregation of alligators, but they are successfully scared off when the students arrive and reunite with Leo.

On the final day of the school year, the graduating students ask Leo how they could get through middle school without his advice, to which he says that they just have to look out for each other. Ms. Malkin is given a full-time job as a teacher and is promptly assigned to the kindergarteners, with Leo and Squirtle as the class pets.

From this movie, one can see that “Leo”, tried making every pupil in his class feel special because we are all different and unique in our own way. He even got into the mind of the wild teacher whom nobody thought could make her soft.

A remarkable part in this movie is when all the pupils sacrificed their field trip just to go look for Leo because his life lessons not only touched their souls, but it changed something in them and it brought unity in that class. He thought he was dying but instead, he killed the fears and depression in the minds of the kids and brought huge smiles on their faces.

This movie brought in themes like; sacrifice, morality, life lessons, courage, individuality, positivity, identity, violence, revenge and much more. The film as well teaches everyone to not be afraid and go out there and make a change. Never forget how special you are.

Delia Nyadi

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