Actor and comedian Adam Sandler (Hotel Transylvania, The Wedding Singer) delivers signature laughs in this coming-of-age animated musical comedy about the last year of elementary school – as seen through the eyes of a class pet. Jaded 74-year-old lizard Leo (Sandler) has been stuck in the same Florida classroom for decades with his terrarium-mate turtle (Bill Burr). When he learns he only has one year left to live, he plans to escape to experience life on the outside but instead gets caught up in the problems of his anxious students — including an impossibly mean substitute teacher. It ends up being the strangest but most rewarding bucket list ever.

KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Madeleine H. comments, “I love the movie Leo —it is funny and relatable. Leo is a coming-of-age story, seen through the eyes of a school’s class pet, as much as it is a coming-to-terms with aging story.” See her full review and interviews below.  

By Madeleine H.K., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

I love the movie Leo —it is funny and relatable. Leo is a coming-of-age story, seen through the eyes of a school’s class pet, as much as it is a coming-to-terms with aging story. 

The story features Leonardo (Adam Sandler) and Squirtle (Bill Burr) who are quick witted, full of jokes and the best classroom pets ever.  Leonardo, Leo for short, overhears a parent saying that lizards live up to 75; at age 74, Leo decides it is time to escape and live his life to the fullest.  In comes strict “old school” substitute teacher Ms. Malkin (Cecily Strong) who wants to teach the 5th graders responsibility by taking turns to care for the classroom pets over the weekend.  Each reluctant 5th grader who takes Leo home discovers his secret, along with wisdom about who they are and how they can better fit in the world.  Every student returns Leo to the classroom and Squirtle is his biggest fan, boosting Leo’s spirits and outlook on his caged life.  When his secret is revealed, jealousy and distrust seeps in and Ms. Malkin, who feels the most threatened, takes Leo away. 

Each 5th grader experiences positive change after their time with Leo and, in return, Leo experiences living like he never has before.  The animation is colorful and realistic, from the background scenery to the small details like how a caterpillar is depicted.  Each of the actors who play the 5th graders fits their character from their personality to their hair and body type. I especially liked Summer (Sunny Sandler) with her fast-talking, super sweet kindness, as well as the overly “great” and popular Jayda (Sadie Sandler).  The little balls of energy that represent the kindergarteners are on point.  And from the overprotected, super-safe, drone-watched home of Eli (Roey Smigel) to the over-the -top, mega-great mansion of Jayda’s family, it is easy to get a sense of each character from their surroundings.

The musical element of Leo propels the characters into songs that tell of their struggles, hopes and dreams while moving the story along in a beautiful way. I like the opening song that expresses how the last year of elementary school is about being on top and the melancholy song toward the end of the film each 5th grader sings about when they were younger.

While facing his mortality, Leo learns the important lesson that he has a lot of life experience to share. He is transformed from a grumpy old lizard with nothing to show for his 74 years to beloved friend and confidant who discovers he has many more years ahead of him.  Another theme of Leo is in the significance of not underestimating yourself and the film delivers the message to live an authentic life by sharing your talents and being true. 

 I give Leo 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 5 to 12, plus adults. Leo releases on Netflix November 21, 2023.