More than once in “The Inventor,” an animated feature about Leonardo da Vinci, powerful patrons tell that Renaissance polymath to behave “like a good little artist.” This advice comes first from Pope Leo X (voiced by Matt Berry) and later from Louise of Savoy (Marion Cotillard), the devoted mother of King Francis I of France.
The notion of a great mind that is both beneficiary of and handmaid to the agendas of the powerful runs throughout this admirably artisanal appreciation of Leonardo’s intellect and innovative spirit, which follows him (Stephen Fry) as he leaves Rome to become King Francis’s maestro. The directors, Jim Capobianco (who also wrote the screenplay) and Pierre-Luc Granjon, keep the artist’s paintings secondary to his exploits as a thinker and tinkerer. Their engaging voice cast also includes Daisy Ridley as Leonardo’s royal champion, Marguerite de Navarre, and Gauthier Battoue as the king, who proves to be in dire need of an ego-stroking statue.
The filmmakers use stop-motion puppetry and hand-illustrated animation to capture Leonardo’s story. This brings to life his fears and fascinations, while drawing out both the wonder and the tribulations he experiences as he searches for the “answer to life itself,” while struggling to work under the command of the powerful. (Here, “The Inventor” shares a theme with a decidedly less child-friendly recent big-screen portrait, “Oppenheimer.”)
In honoring this beautiful mind, the plot’s forward motion lags at times. “The Inventor” is rife with somewhat didactic lessons — about power, innovation, curiosity — yet a presumably unintended one might be that lessons themselves, however insightful, are not always captivating.
Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.