April And The Extraordinary World

***1/2

Reviewed by: Luke Shaw

April And The Extraordinary World
"Another sumptuously realised and animated film that will be creeping onto lists of “films you probably haven’t seen” in a decade or so."

As we enter the animation renaissance thanks to the herculean efforts of Studio Ghibli and Pixar, who continually produce fantastic entertainment that’s almost forever destined to be snubbed by ‘serious’ awards, it’s great to see that smaller studios without the same level of financial fortitude are still able to produce rapturous feature length animation.

Belleville Rendez-Vous, The Illusionist, The Secret Of Kells and Song Of The Sea are all beautiful pieces of craft that have soared high and gone largely unnoticed by mass audiences. It’s a shame, because they’re all wonderful and enchanting for all ages alike. Sauntering into the weakening limelight then comes April And The Extraordinary World, another sumptuously realised and animated film that will be creeping onto lists of “films you probably haven’t seen” in a decade or so; I implore you to watch it, if only for the warm smug glow you’ll get when you can tick it off as a film you definitely have seen.

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Set in an alternate steampunk style reality, designed by comic artist Jacques Tardi (most famous for The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec) the “Extraordinary World” of the release title is more accurately reflected in its literal translation: the twisted world. Due to an accident involving a volatile super serum developed by a scatterbrained scientist, a pair of hyperintelligent lizards and Napoleon the Third, the Franco-Prussian War is explosively averted. Subsequently, top scientists start going missing, robbing the world of key inventions such as the discovery of oil, electricity and so forth, with coal and charcoal remaining the main. All of this means that by the 1930s, Napoleon V rules over a smog choked Paris and is locked in a war of attrition with the American navy for access to Canada’s vast forests, and all remaining scientists are hunted down by the police in order to help develop new weaponry.

In shadowy back alleys, the son, grandson and granddaughter in law of the aforementioned scientist are still working on completing the “Ultimate Serum” - a drug that when administered will imbue immortality. So far the only positive result they have is Darwin (Philippe Katerine), a talking cat and companion of daughter April (Marion Cotillard). When the police inevitably descend upon the family, the ensuing chase ends with a bang after a mysterious storm destroys the Paris-Berlin super cable car. The film is at its finest when presenting these rambunctious action sequences, with Tardi’s clean-line style being reminiscent of Hergé, emphasising the arcs of movement and the comic impact.

The plot picks up 10 years later, with April dedicated to recreating her parents' serum to help heal Darwin, a decade of soot filled air having left him at death’s door. Despite the grimy premise, the Twisted World April inhabits is a marvel of coal powered engineering and intricately detailed Parisian buildings. The various mechanical inventions are detailed and rendered with a great degree of care, with more than a couple of nods to the work of Ghibli, which feels fitting due to the great influence of French comics on Hayao Miyazaki. April and Darwin make a great leading pair, and when the dubious street urchin Julius (Marc-Andre Grondin) is thrown into the mix, the script balances humour, romance and friendship well without falling into simple black and white depictions.

This focus on the overlapping grey areas between good and bad carries on through the entire film too, and the group responsible for kidnapping the world’s scientists end up being at once sympathetic and alarmingly pragmatic in its plans for the world’s greatest minds. There aren’t many punches pulled, which might make it a challenge for younger viewers, but its lack of a simplistic worldview means that it should stand the test of time, joining Nausicaa, Wall.E and Princess Mononoke as a film concerned not just with entertaining through jubilant animation, but with telling an important story about the follies of man and the importance of taking care of the planet.

Reviewed on: 24 Feb 2016
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A teenager and her talking cat go in search of her missing scientist parents.

Director: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci

Writer: Benjamin Legrand, based on the graphic novel by Jacques Tardi.

Starring: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort

Year: 2015

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: France, Belgium, Canada


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