‘Leo’ Review: Should You Watch Adam Sandler’s New Animated Movie?

The latest Netflix animated film, Leo, is now streaming, but should you give it a watch?

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leo netflix movie review

Picture: Netflix

Produced by Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions, Leo centers around a 74-year-old lizard – the titular Leo – who has been stuck in the same Florida classroom for decades with his terrarium mate, a turtle named Squirtle. When he learns that he has only one year to live, Leo plans to escape to experience life on the outside. However, after being taken home for the weekend by a student from the classroom, he discovers that he has a knack for talking out the problems of the anxious students in the classroom – and even an impossibly mean substitute teacher. 

Leo is the first animated feature film for Happy Madison since Eight Crazy Nights back in 2002, which also saw Adam Sandler as the lead character and co-writer. This also marks the 4th Netflix film release for Happy Madison in 2023 as they have had the successful run of Murder Mystery 2, The Out-Laws, & You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah before Leo hit the platform this week.

With Sandler at the nexus of everything, you can be sure he will have many of his frequent collaborators along for the ride. In the voice cast, you’ll find Sandler’s wife Jackie (Jayda’s Mom) playing mom to her real-life daughter Sadie (Jayda). You’ll also find Sandler’s other daughter Sunny (Summer), who just came off a leading role in You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah. After family, you’ll find Sandler’s closest friends & colleagues: Rob Schneider as the Principal, Nick Swardson as the Bunny, Kevin James as Ace, & the co-writer/co-director of the film Robert Smigel taking on the voice of the miniature horse. Tack on Coneheads co-star Jason Alexander (Jayda’s Dad), 2 fellow comedians in Bill Burr (Squirtle the Turtle) and Joy Koy (Coach Komura), The Week Of Co-Star Allison Strong, & SNL alum Cecily Strong (Ms. Malkin) and you can see Sandler’s loyalty & love all around. Not sure how Stephanie Hsu (Skyler’s Mom) fits in, but who cares! She’s amazing and coming off an Oscar nomination earlier this year.

To go along with former SNL writer Robert Smigel in the director chair, they enlisted former SNL animators (Yes “Ambiguously Gay Duo”!) & Hotel Transylvania 2 Story Heads Robert Marianetti & David Wachtenheim, who are both making their feature film directing debuts.

While we’ve all been on the Adam Sandler Friends & Family plan for a long time now, enjoying the goofiness and Peter Pan-like ageless charm with occasional eye-rolling choices, the new wrinkle in Leo is a level of sincerity, sweetness, & sentimentalism unbecoming of most of the Happy Madison catalog.

While the first part of the film focuses more on Leo feeling his mortality, most of the remainder is a blend of children discovering the source of their inner anxieties, empowering the kids to deal with their shortcomings, & the wisdom of age in a time of shiny tech & youthful exuberance.

Of course, there is also the humor that we come to know and love from the likes of Sandler & Smigel. From the sharply focused child character types – the clingy child of divorce, the talkative first child, the amorphous savagery of the Kindergarteners – to a subtly hilarious & overly needy drone (“Please take me off this chat”), the comedy is always present, but never overpowers the more important themes that truly drive the success of the story. Sandler & Smigel seem to have taken a lot of the notes from their accomplished Hotel Transylvania franchise, mixed in some of the coming-of-age apprehensions from You Are So Not Invited To My Bat Mitzvah, & add a dash of some of their own growing wisdom to make a unique balance of generational perspectives.

While the story may seem a bit clunky at times and the McGuffin of the end-of-year theme park goal barely glues the film together, the well-developed characters & their needs to make an impact in their worlds keep this train on the tracks. Sandler & Burr standout as the old, bitter friends who snap at each other out of love like an old married couple. Their chemistry fills in the gaps when the movie needs it between children’s homes and the more adventurous climax.

Overall, Leo is one of the biggest Netflix surprises of the year and another success for Happy Madison. With a lot more heart than you’d expect, the film does a great job examining the feelings of the modern 5th grader embarking on the journey of puberty & middle school while simultaneously shedding light on the meditations of an aging character looking to pass on his wisdom and make the best out of his last licks on Earth. Sandler & Burr make for a fun, terrarium-style “Grumpy Old Men”, who ironically work way better than Burr’s actual grumpy Old Dads that came out recently on the platform (Sorry, Bill). It may be a slow starter, but it’s also a story the whole family can enjoy.


Watch Leo on Netflix If You Like

  • Toy Story 3
  • Turning Red
  • Hotel Transylvania
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid
  • Luca

MVP of Leo

The Drone

As the rare totum of the modern age, the overprotective drone as an extension of Eli’s relentless helicopter parents has a hilarious personality all its own. From wiping Eli’s behind for him to giving his own fanfare celebrations when he wins at something, this drone is one of the most entertaining & Disney-esque creations that the film has to offer. He even gets his own “Dear Drone” letter with accompanying song and a long jaded lover arc that creates a neediness that aids the action in the film’s final moments.

4/5Good
★★★★☆

In a solid year for Netflix animated films (The Magician’s Elephant, Nimona), Leo holds its own. Sandler, Burr, & company make for a top-notch voice cast and the life lessons from well-developed characters make for an enjoyable movie for kids 7 to 75.

Author What's on Netflix avatar

Andrew Morgan is a film critic & podcaster with 20 years of experience on the sets & offices of film & television. Current podcast host of the entertainment review show, Recent Activity. He lives in the Northeast of the United States.