by Hope Madden
The Inventor, a beautifully animated lesson on the life and times of Leonardo da Vinci (voiced by Stephen Fry), offers a lot to digest, and I’m not sure who they think is eating.
Writer/co-director Jim Capobianco (directing here with Pierre-Luc Granjon) draws inspiration from his 2009 hand-drawn short, Leonardo. A delightful sketch about trying to fly, the film ran just 9 minutes and celebrated Da Vinci’s genius in the most charming way possible.
The feature looks into da Vinci’s curiosity about the existence of the human soul. This gets him into trouble with Pope Leo X (Matt Berry), so da Vinci moves from Rome to France, where he thinks he can follow his curiosity in peace.
Capobianco and Granjon land on a lovely mixture media. The tale is told primarily using a stop motion Claymation style that recalls the old Rankin/Bass Christmas specials of the Sixties and Seventies. (This is especially true of the pope, who’s the spitting image of Burgermeister Meisterburger.)
Scenes are often punctuated with the same hand-drawn sketch style used in Leonardo, and together the result is lovely. But that doesn’t help the storytelling as much as it should.
Even with a great cast – Daisy Ridley and Marion Cotillard co-star alongside Fry and Berry – Capobianco can’t maintain interest. He delivers so much information so superficially that it’s equally hard to keep up and care what happens.
The story takes too big a bite. Is our focus the soul? The perfect city? Weapons? Flying machines? Because each of those has its own background, implications, experiments and host of characters. Skimming over all of it gives us too much and too little at the same time.
It’s hard to determine the intended audience for The Inventor. The humor and political intrigue are a little sophisticated for children, and the history lesson is far too long and involves far too many characters to keep a child’s attention.
And though the animation is reason enough for an adult to give The Inventor a go, the simplistic storytelling and characterization will likely leave them cold.