The Inventor (2023)

‘Inventor’ short on new ideas

Few have rivaled Leonardo da Vinci in inventiveness and intelligence. So, why honor him with such a dull exercise as the sterilely animated “The Inventor”?

Perhaps I’m expecting too much from “Ratatouille” scribe Jim Capobianco, but given the depth and breadth of his subject, it’s not unreasonable to demand more than a cursory exploration of perhaps the greatest mind that ever lived. Given his target audience is likely STEM youngsters, it’s all the more reason not to dumb it down to the IQ of a Saturday morning cartoon. Professor Peabody anyone?

That’s the level at which Capobianco operates in feebly musing upon da Vinci’s later life as a member of the French court under King Francis I. The time is 1516, three years before da Vinci’s death, and a period of transition for the artist-engineer-architect-inventor after falling out of favor with Pope Leo X. Summoned by the vainglorious 21-year-old monarch to design the city of Romorantin, da Vinci’s grandiose concept is met with fear and resistance. Only the king’s sister, Princess Marguerite de Navarre, shares da Vinci’s vision.

That’s pretty much all there is to the leanest of stories, leaving the remainder of the film’s 99 minutes to dwell on da Vinci’s peculiarities. Capobianco and co-director Pierre-Luc Granjon attempt, but fail, to get mileage out of a running gag involving da Vinci’s two assistants snatching corpses for their boss to dissect in his quest for anatomical knowledge and a dogged search for the soul. It’s mildly humorous the first time, but tedious thereafter. The same is true of repeated digs at King Francis’ enormous ego.

Interspersed are genuinely inspired moments, such as da Vinci’s clever explanations of the absurdity of war and the never-ending escalation of weapons of mass destruction. Leonardo implores Francis to redirect his vast riches from national defense to create the self-sustaining “ideal city,” offering universal happiness and well-being rather than death. And for a brief moment, the idea captures the king’s limited attention span. Eventually, as always, apprehension rules the day and da Vinci’s Utopian dream is consigned to the scrap heap.

Most of the movie, alas, is merely a jumble of half-baked ideas and failed gags intermingled with glimpses at da Vinci’s mega-hits, most notably the mechanical knight and his classic paintings of The Last Supper and Mona Lisa, which Francis declares inadequate in size. The point, I guess, is that visionary geniuses will always be eclipsed by dim-witted men in power.

The message might have carried more weight if the animation, a mix of stop-motion and 2-D, weren’t so rote. Except for a gorgeous finale, the film is spartan and dreary. And what will children make of an aged superhero whose only identifying feature is a long, thick gray beard? Charismatic, he’s not.

Even more underwhelming are the actors assembled to lend their voices, particularly the usually gregarious Stephen Fry as da Vinci. He projects as bored as I was. Same for “Star Wars” heroine, Daisy Ridley, as Marguerite; Gauthier Battoue as the buffoonish Francis; and Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard as the king’s haughty mother, Louise of Savoy. Only Matt Berry from TV’s “What We Do in the Shadows” generates energy as the know-it-all Pope Leo X.

He’s a hoot, but the rest of the picture is largely blah, leaving us to ponder how the tale of history’s most astute inventor could be rendered so uninventive.

Movie review

The Inventor

Rating: Nude art images and some thematic elements

Cast: Stephen Fry, Daisy Ridley, Marion Cotillard, Gauthier Battoue and Matt Berry

Directors: Jim Capobianco and Pierre-Luc Granjon

Writer: Jim Capobianco

Runtime: 99 minutes

Grade: C+

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