Leo Review

Leo (Adam Sandler) is a lizard living as a school pet alongside Squirtle (Bill Burr) the turtle. When a strict new substitute teacher makes the kids take him home for the weekend, he sees it as a chance to break into the wild.

by Sophie Butcher |
Published on

In his work with Netflix in recent years, Adam Sandler has been a loving dad (You’re So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah), a delicatessen worker (Hubie Halloween), a reluctant detective (the Murder Mystery movies), and a basketball coach (Hustle). This time, he is a lizard. In a new heartfelt animated comedy, Sandler lends his voice to the titular Leo, a grouchy old soul who lives in a terrarium with best pal Squirtle (the turtle, voiced by Bill Burr) as pets in a Florida school.


Having been at the school for decades, Leo has seen a lot of kids come and go, but has never got to experience the outside world. When he realises that he is reaching the end of the average lizard’s life expectancy, he yearns to explore the wild – but when the opportunity to do so presents itself, he starts to rethink his goal. As it turns out, all those years observing fifth-graders has left him with a lot of wisdom to impart.

Sandler’s voice work is pretty extraordinary here; his timbre is almost unrecognisable under the gruff, old-man sound he’s created for Leo. Bill Burr’s Squirtle is the ideal companion for him, both leaning into enhanced East Coast wise-guy twangs.

There are real comedy smarts here.

Though the film starts out in an inordinately cheesy way, with each of the schoolkids singing verses about entering their final year of elementary school – and the songs do return, somewhat unnecessarily – Leo just about has enough bite to keep that all from feeling like too much. There are real comedy smarts here too: Leo as a mini Godzilla smashing through a LEGO city is expected but brilliant; the whole thread around a ‘Child Safety Drone’ that follows highly-allergic kid Eli around is consistently funny; and the conception of kindergarteners as chaotic, round-headed little maniacs is delightfully weird.

At 102 minutes though, Leo does start to outstay its welcome. After establishing the emotional core of the story well – Leo giving advice to each of the students to help them connect more effectively with their classmates and prepare them for the transition to middle school – the narrative runs out of steam a little, developing a quite convoluted way for Leo to face jeopardy before reaching an inevitably happy conclusion.

Fun, warm, but meandering and too-long, Leo is an animated adventure with kindness and celebrating individuality on its mind – and is a great showcase for Sandler’s voice talents.
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