Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Inventor, the Animated Da Vinci

Everyone knows Leonardo da Vinci was Italian, but there is a good reason why so much of his art is in France. That would be King Francis I, da Vinci’s final and closest patron. That Mona Lisa probably turned out to be a solid national investment. The polymath has reached his twilight years, but there is still much he wants to learn in Jim Capobianco’s The Inventor, “co-directed” by Pierre-Luc Granjon, which opens Friday in New York.

As the film opens, the free-thinking da Vinci’s position in Italy is tenuous at best. His patron Cardinal is fading in health and influence, while Pope Leo X grows increasingly bellicose. He sounds a lot like Steven Toast, so you know he must be a blowhard. Providentially, the younger, more cultured Francis I offers a handy escape hatch.

Nevertheless, da Vinci and his apprentices still reasonably assume it is best to keep his anatomy dissections under wraps, even in France. Da Vinci remains consumed by his quest to discover the seat of the soul, but Francis wants him to whip up something big to impress his fellow monarchs. Da Vinci’s progressive architectural concept for the “ideal city” is not exactly what the King had in mind, but his sister Marguerite is convinced, perhaps more so than da Vinci intended.

The Inventor
is a charming animated film that should delight fans of Will Vinton’s Adventures of Mark Twain. It takes liberties with history and science, but it embraces the spirit of da Vinci (at least as we have come to understand it). Also quite refreshingly, Capobianco’s screenplay is completely disinterested in da Vinci’s sexual exploits or speculation on his sexuality, unlike Da Vinci’s Demons and especially Leonardo.

The Inventor prioritizes animation to explore da Vinci’s inventions and scientific studies. Most of the dramatic scenes are animated in a stop-motion style not unlike vintage Vinton. However, the 2D animation, inspired by the look and feel of da Vinci’s sketches are probably even more distinctive, even though they are largely devoted to da Vinci’s expressionistic reveries.

The Inventor
looks great and Capobianco also wrote a number clever lines, making it considerably funnier than anything Disney and Pixar have done lately. Of course, it helps having voice talent like Stephen Fry and Matt Berry, who can deliver a one-liner with sly relish. Fry aptly expresses da Vinci’s wise erudition and Berry is archly pompous as the Pope. Marion Cotillard sounds appropriately regal as Louise de Savoy (basically the “Queen Mum”), but Daisy Ridley does not, when lending her voice to Marguerite.

There are some lovely visuals in
The Inventor, especially the renderings of da Vinci’s “ideal city.” They are accompanied by a terrific soundtrack composed by Alex Mandel, which evokes the vibe and instrumentation of Renaissance music, but has a liveliness that makes it fresh and accessible for contemporary ears. This is just a lovely and sophisticated film that animation fans of any age will enjoy. Very highly recommended, The Inventor opens Friday (9/15) in New York, at the Angelika Film Center.