Stop motion films have stolen the hearts of spectators for generations. The genre was introduced 125 years ago and despite technological advances, filmmakers still choose to tell stories using this challenging yet classic medium. When one is asked to recollect their favorite stop motion flick, most answers involve fun mythical jaunts such as The Nightmare Before Christmas or Coraline. Very few are based on true stories, yet the new stop motion feature The Inventor aims to blend the imaginative with history.
The Inventor focuses on the story of Leonardo da Vinci as he leaves Italy for France in the later era of his life. With a thirst for knowledge and hopes of inventive freedom, audiences follow the ups and downs of da Vinci’s experiences in France via a beautiful choice of animated style.
The stop motion in The Inventor waxes nostalgic of other notable movies such as 1964’s Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and other Christmas classics with the same essence. Uniquely, however, this film meshes the familiar Claymation feel with quicker paced hand drawn animations, which helps keep viewers entranced. This also makes the story feel more personally crafted for its real life muse, as the genius was an amazing artist, with notorious works such as the Vitruvian Man. It’s evident throughout that the creators and animators put multiple hours into perfecting the ideal unique look for the film.
While it’s undeniable that The Inventor was a labor of love that has some of the more impressive visuals for an animation in recent time, as a whole it’s hard to deny that the storyline feels lacking. Connections to the characters, including da Vinci, are hard to come by, and there are numerous slower moments that may lose viewers attention. There are a handful of songs throughout, but they don’t have the same kind of gripping earworm aspect that songs from other animated hits have. None of the bouncy tunes will stick in their listener’s minds with its indistinctive lyricism, which feels like a big miss.
Notable stars Daisy Ridley and Marion Cotillard each boast large roles in most of the film, voicing Marguerite and Louise of Savoy. The star of the show, however, is Stephen Fry, who smartly voices da Vinci himself. Fry manages to truly channel the man himself with how passionately he emotes every line. This is undeniably impressive when you’re limited to only your voice to affect those watching and listening. This is not the first time Fry has voiced iconic characters, though. He also voiced the Cheshire Cat in 2010’s Alice in Wonderland, further displaying how vast his talents are.
It’s difficult to not be disappointed further by The Inventor when you learn who is behind it. Writer Jim Capobianco has a vast history in animation, having written both The Lion King and Ratatouille. He was also a story artist for Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, and Inside Out among others. Comparing those cult classics to this new venture is nearly impossible, but it also begs the question of why this work of his couldn’t have been added to that list. One can only hope that Capobianco doesn’t stop writing or animating and graces us with more unforgettable features, but sadly this doesn’t feel like one.
Those who are invested enough in The Inventor and are closely watching will find many Easter Eggs relating to da Vinci’s works. Some are obvious, such as Mona Lisa, but others are not as well known, such as da Vinci’s iconic bronze horse or mechanical lion. Unless you have studied the man himself, it’s surprising just how much da Vinci truly succeeded, and this film touched on that. There is much to be learned from the 93 minute runtime if only it could captivate those that are willing to learn.
It’s hard to determine what the target audience is meant to be for this movie. The animation and musical aspects of it feel universal for both kids and adults. That is until you realize the darker tones of the picture, which simply reflect da Vinci’s true life and studies but don’t feel appropriate for those of a certain age. The stealing of dead bodies and struggles with the imminence of death limit the film to those that are older. If that was the intention, then they succeeded, but it feels inadequate to not have an educational, historical stop motion for all ages.
All in all, The Inventor pushes the envelope for gorgeous, impressive animation. It also educates those that tune in about an amazing figure in history, who shaped much of the world we know today. Unfortunately, that is where it ends, and it’s hard to say that this one will become another beloved animated film.