Adam Sandler is returning to the big screen, or rather, to the animated screen, in his latest project titled “Leo.” In this Netflix animated movie, Sandler voices the character of Leo, a 70-year-old lizard who has served as a class pet for a rotating group of fifth graders. However, one day he discovers that he only has a year left to live, leading him to plan an escape to freedom. But instead, he finds himself in a situation where he needs to rescue the students from their mean substitute teacher.
Sandler not only lends his voice to the character but also co-wrote and produced the movie. He shared at the Los Angeles premiere that he was inspired to create a version of “Grease” for the last year of elementary school while working with writer-director Robert Smigel to craft this musical comedy. In a beautiful family collaboration, Sandler’s daughters Sunny and Sadie and wife, Jackie, also participate in the project. This marks the second family collaboration they’ve done this year after “You Are So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah.”
When it came to crafting the voice of Leo, Sandler revealed that he channeled his late manager and producer, Bernie Brillstein. The star recalled how they would always impersonate Brillstein’s voice on set, which he’s held onto for years since leaving the show. Smigel, who worked on SNL for over 25 years, also used to do an impression of the manager. He remembered how Brillstein would give advice in a way that would suit the film’s wise lizard, so Sandler decided to channel Brillstein for the character.
The idea for “Leo” came about when Sandler had already started work on a movie set during the fifth grade. Smigel explained that it had a narrator who appeared two or three times and the last time it appeared, it was revealed that it was a snake at the back of the classroom. This prompted Smigel to think of what if the class pet had been stuck in the room for 70 years, seen every kind of fifth grader, and was incredibly jaded. This idea led to the development of a wise old lizard who gives advice to kids.
The film also stars Bill Burr as Squirtle, a turtle who shares the classroom terrarium with Leo. In addition to Sandler and the film’s child stars performing musical performances, Smigel’s sons also join the voice cast alongside Sandler’s daughters. Co-director David Wachtenheim noted that they kept evoking “Peanuts” cartoons as inspiration and wanted natural-sounding kids for the voice cast.
“Leo” is set to begin streaming on Netflix on Tuesday, Nov. 21. With a talented cast and a heartwarming storyline, this animated film promises to captivate audiences of all ages. So mark your calendars and get ready to experience the adventures of Leo, the wise 70-year-old lizard, as he navigates through the world of fifth graders in this delightful animated movie.