Leo (2023) Review – A beautiful balance of humour and heartfelt moments

By Amanda Guarragi
Published: November 20, 2023
Leo (2023) Review
Leo (2023) | Image via Netflix


A beautiful balance of humor and heartfelt moments to educate young audiences about finding a safe space to express their thoughts.

Films that tell a universal coming-of-age story will affect everyone differently. In Leo (2023) on Netflix, co-directors Robert Marianetti, Robert Smigel, and David Wachtenheim take their audience back to middle school. Here, we meet a 74-year-old lizard named Leo (Adam Sandler) and his turtle friend Squirtle (Bill Burr), who plan to escape the Florida classroom they’ve been living for decades.

Squirtle and Leo have been part of an ever-changing classroom and have learned about certain stereotypes among middle schoolers. It’s entertaining for adults to see the students get profiled, but it doesn’t stop there. The parents of these children are also quickly shown in the opening musical number, and we see different types of parenting.

There is something special about an animated feature that can speak to children and adults. The ability to educate children about life and how to express their feelings while making it relatable for adults is no easy feat. Every adult has gone through something, and it has stemmed from childhood.

Leo (2023) review and plot summary

In Leo, the 75-year-old lizard plans on breaking free from this cage. He feels like he has wasted his entire life away, sitting in classrooms decade after decade. He wants to see the world and be much more than the classroom lizard. It all starts with some misinformation from Squirtle that he is going to die at the age of 75. In a panic, he has an existential crisis that sets him over the edge.

Fortunately for Leo, when the new substitute teacher, Ms. Malkin (Cecily Strong), takes over for Mrs. Salinas (Allison Strong), she plans for each student to take Squirtle or Leo home for the weekend. When Leo gets to the student’s home, he breaks out of the terrarium and starts climbing the walls to get to the window. Sadly, he doesn’t get there in time because lizards move extremely slowly and Summer (Sunny Sandler) walks in. He accidentally says a word and she realizes that he can talk. The two of them have a conversation about why she talks so much and what she needs to do to become popular. Every time a student brings Leo home, he tries to escape but he ends up helping the students instead.

The reason why Leo is so enjoyable is because of how grounded these characters are. Even though there is a talking lizard, Leo almost feels like a wise old grandfather giving the best advice he can to these students. It is the perfect structure to explore each student and their home life to understand the facade of the stereotype Leo sees. He uses his past knowledge of previous grades to give the students advice and, in doing so, gives them the strength to think for themselves and break out of their shells.

Why this animated feature is important 

Marianetti, Smigel, and Wachtenheim created a film for children to have an outlet to express their anxieties, pain, and self-doubt healthily. Similarly to adults, children need someone to talk to, and it’s necessary to give them that space to trust those they express their feelings to. The songs are the principal aspect of this film because you can thread many ideas with lyrics that can emotionally connect audiences to the characters.“When I Was 10” and “Don’t Cry” address a sense of loss that children can’t quite explain. Whether it’s grieving a loved one or reflecting on a loss of innocence, these two songs explore that pain no one ever really discusses.

There’s always that one moment that shatters the perception we once had as a child, the realization that life will be hard and maybe it would be easier to stay a kid forever. The team behind Leo balanced middle-school humor with heartfelt lessons to make this a well-rounded feature for the whole family. The beautiful thing about the songs is that they can go on forever (a Sandler staple if you’ve seen his comedy shows) but are detailed with wisdom and little anecdotes to help everyone.

What did you think of Leo (2023)? Comment below.

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