With the LEGO films, a Secret Life sequel, an upcoming Playmobil film — not a joke — and all the other big studio animated films, it’s easy to miss out on the smaller films from less well-known studios. One such film is the upcoming release of director Sergio Manfio’s Leo Da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa, a charming Italian film which spent all of 2019 releasing in various overseas countries before landing in the States. Does it have the biggest names in Hollywood? No. Does it feature a well-rounded cast of characters? Not exactly. But will it entertain your littlest of kids for a while? Absolutely.
The young inventor Leo Da Vinci (voiced by Johnny Bosch) live in a small town in Italy where he tools away the time devising new and amazing creations. When not devising a new method of motorized transport he calls the Barrel or a suit capable of helping the wearer walk underwater safely, he’s spending time with friends Lorenzo (voiced by Bryce Papenbrook) and Lisa (voiced by Cherami Leigh), the latter for whom he harbors a secret crush. Returning home after testing out new equipment, the trio discover that the crops on Lisa’s family farm all burned down. Without the harvest from the fields, Lisa’s father won’t be able to pay the rent on the land and Lisa may have to marry the landowner’s son as payment. Convinced he can find a solution to save his friend, Leo heads to Florence where he learns of a buried treasure that may be the key to saving Lisa’s land and freedom. What Leo doesn’t realize is that a band of pirates has an eye on the treasure as well and will stop at nothing to get it.
Leo Da Vinci has more in common with Disney’s Goldie & Bear, a series which takes the fables of our youth and lets them play in a giant sandbox, than say Disney’s Mulan, which borrows from a historical figure, Hua Mulan, to create its story. This shouldn’t suggest that there’s nothing of value in the tale, but it’s important to set expectations. As far as history is concerned, no one really knows who the real Mona Lisa was or what her relationship with the artist and inventor was, but that didn’t stop Manfio and co-writer Francesco Manfio from embellishing one of their own. This allows them to craft an action-adventure story with a hint of romanticism for the era in human history. The Renaissance was a period of inspiration and invention as the concepts and creations from the Middle Age gave way to the notions which serve as the foundation for modern thought and innovation. That’s an exciting time to use as their jumping off point and the story takes full advantage of that, even using knock-off concepts of Leo’s work as props for jokes. Keep in mind, however, that the time period only serves as an entry point to Leo as a character and not as the real deal. Leo Da Vinci is as much an inspired by true events film as National Treasure, but that doesn’t stop it from being entertaining. That said, Leo is decidedly for a younger audience that Treasure is.
If you’ve ever seen Netflix’s Beat Bugs or Disney’s Goldie & Bear, then the animation style within Leo Da Vinci will not only look familiar, but communicate the exact kind of adventure audiences are in for. It’s not low-grade by any stretch, it’s just that the other aforementioned programs aren’t as interested in mind-blowing animation (see: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) as they are in telling a wholesome story that will entertain their audience. That means slightly exaggerated features, characters who are more tropes than individuals, animals who can balloon out past reason, and violence that’s more implied than explicit. Considering that the film is clearly aiming for family-friendly entertainment, the kind you can plop your child in front of for over an hour and not worry about what they might see or experience, it hits all the target areas. Silly jokes, sly references to Da Vinci’s famous works, and a love story which is sweet, even if a touch problematic.
We’re now in an era of too much content. Digital platforms are multiplying, content is increasing, and all of it is becoming harder to navigate. This is especially problematic for families who just want to put something on without worrying about language, violence, or, really, any kind of content that might influence or negatively impact their kids. Granted Leo Da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa is a theatrical release, not something that can be enjoyed at home, but there’s still an opportunity here to beat the heat and enjoy a worry-free cinematic experience. No world-ending threats, no beings of superhuman power, no violent exploits, no real danger of any kind. Just some wholesome fun. When you’re looking for family entertainment, what more do you real need?
In select theaters beginning August 2nd, 2019.
Final Score: 3 out of 5.