By Kate Norrish
Though not historically accurate, “The Inventor” lived up to my expectations set by the trailer. The film did not disappoint - this is exactly how a movie adaptation of Da Vinci’s life should be.
Released in the United States on Sept. 15, “The Inventor” follows Leonardo Da Vinci (Stephen Fry) and his real life apprentices after moving to France to work for King Francis I (Gauthier Battoue). The rest of the film follows Da Vinci balancing his professional work, creating a city based around his inventions, and an illegal passion project, dissecting bodies to try to figure out where the human soul is.
Although mainly stop motion animated, watercolor-like 2D animation is utilized to gorgeous effect, often to represent Leonardo’s imagination and anxieties, and sometimes showing the audience how Leonardo's various machines work.
It also lends itself to the themes, as the stop-motion portions of the film are more silly, often featuring simple, but surprisingly enjoyable physical comedy. My favorite example is the apprentices hiding a cadaver from the king after unexpectedly finding him in Leonardo’s house.
The imagination pieces tend to touch on heavier themes.
These themes feature Leonardo losing his patron and friend at the beginning of the film, and fearing his own death. I feel these are exemplified by the fact that in both the film and real life, Leonardo had bad blood with the church, leading to the implication in these moments that he is scared of going to Hell. This, on top of a scene where Leonardo monologues to a painting often interpreted to be of his lover, really makes the film emotional if you know the history.
While not a period piece that is interested in accuracy for the most part, there are many elements that history enjoyers will love, such as a play at the end - one of Leonardo’s lesser known passions was theater tech - and a running joke about Leonardo and Michaelangelo not liking each other - they didn’t in real life either.
Leonardo is portrayed as a whimsical, childish figure, despite dealing with a lot of mental turmoil. Based on the various nonfiction texts I’ve read about him, this is perfect characterization, and he is extremely likable.
The other characters are, like almost everything else, simple, but still enjoyable.
I’ve heard others criticize the film for being too childish, but I felt that the film was meant to have that sort of tone, as the plot is clearly filtered through Leonardo’s world view. However, this does not distract from the themes.
I would also like to mention one of the apprentices, Fransesco. In every other adaptation I’ve seen of Da Vinci’s life, Fransesco was either absent, or unintentionally unlikable. In this version, he is portrayed as a mellow, go-with-the-flow teenager who had clearly evolved from a sweet kid.
My only criticisms are that at the beginning, the dialogue can be a little cliched, as there are a few scenes devoted to telling Leonardo that he’s “crazy,” and should stick to painting. This ends fairly quickly, however, and the external conflict switches to King Francis and his sister (Daisy Ridley) disagreeing as to what work Leonardo should focus on, touching on what a society should deem important.
Additionally, while the instrumental music, and a few scenes where spoken poetic lyrics are utilized, are beautiful, poignant, and often authentic sounding to the 1510’s setting, the moments where the characters sing are extremely bland, and only seem to exist to explain the intricacies of Leonardo’s projects to the audience.
Audiences should go in knowing that this is an extremely simple, sweet film - the kind that can make you teary-eyed and having fun a few scenes apart from each other. I think it's a great film for everyone, child or adult, but especially those with an interest in art history and the neurodiverse, due to its emphasis on atypical thinking.
A lovingly made comfort film