Lily O’Regan stars this children’s film as Tutu, an aspiring ballerina whose free spirit and sweet personality clashes with the choreography-reliant and catty nature of her ballet school. A low-budget debut feature by director James Brown, You Can Tutu is about as straight forward as you can get in terms of its setup and plot. The film has one real target demographic, girls of around eight-years-old and aims directly for the with little concern elsewhere in this sugary, glitter-encrusted pink fairy cake of a film.
You can forgive You Can Tutu for not exactly being a risk-taker, designed as it is towards an audience really too young to recognise staple tropes and cliches. There are ways however of dressing up such fundamentals into an entertaining product. In a world full of genuinely high-quality material for youngsters is being produced from Pixar to Studio Ghibli, the idea that a film can justify its lack of quality as being “just for kids” is not good enough and whilst You Can Tutu isn’t scraping the very bottom of the barrel, there’s a feeling of condescension.
If I could use a phrase to describe You Can Tutu’s flaws succinctly, it would be “broad strokes”. Another major issue I have with a lot of children’s films is the exaggerated performances. Sure to infuriate anyone who isn’t a child, it does lead me to wonder if kids cannot understand more realistic forms of expression. I certainly don’t think its outside their own realms of understanding and whilst You Can Tutu is not a horrendous offender in this regard, very little is played to subtlety or understatement. The characters are two-dimensional with little quirks or elements of backstory that set them apart and are hammered upon to an irritating level. The only real exception to this is the dance school madame who rather coldly chides Tutu for dancing freely instead of in line with the others (in a manner that makes it seem like a primary school take on The Fountainhead) but is shown to have a tender side.
In terms of plot and characterisation, You Can Tutu is not a particularly good film lacking much in the way of originality or interest but there are some occasional strengths. There may be something intrinsically cinematic about ballet given the sheer number of films based around it in some way and here the moments where it actually focuses on the performance and rehearsal of ballet there is a certain unrefined artistry to proceedings. With performance scenes usually set against pitch black, it helps to build up something of an atmosphere, surprising given the rather bare bones production.
However, is You Can Tutu a second Billy Elliot? Not by a long chalk. It’s a rudimentary film that while perhaps not enough to write off James Brown as a director of promise is largely undemanding but more crucially, unrewarding. I may very well not be the target demographic for this film, but this film does mark a clear difference between pandering to an audience and exceeding those expectations. You Can Tutu may be harmless and innocent enough but its lack of trying to really reach for something interesting and beyond the simple requirements for a cash-grab aimed at youngsters really hurts it in the end.
You Can Tutu is available on Digital Download from Monday, July 31st; rated U. Check out the trailer below.