It is 1870 and scientific genius Gustave Franklin is on the verge of discovering a serum that will make soldiers invincible - but things go terribly wrong and end in tragedy. Jump ahead 61 years to 1931 and the scientists of the world are disappearing. Gustave’s son, Prosper, and his son, Paul, continue, in secret, to try to create the serum for “April and the Extraordinary World.”
This is a remarkable film on many levels. The animation is detailed and beautifully drawn. The production design creates a world where, because of the things that went terribly wrong, power and locomotion are fueled by coal and steam – high tech has not evolved in this strange and different world. Imagine a bicycle driven blimp and steam-driven cars.
The story, adapted from Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel by co-director Franck Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand, shows extraordinary imagination. (The works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne come to mind, as well as the anime works by Hayao Miyazaki, especially his remarkable 2013 animation, “The Wind Rises.”) Coupling the terrific story, with its young femme hero, the titular April (Marion Cotillard) and her talking cat, Darwin (Philippe Katerine), and the fine artistry of the animation make for a film for older kids and beyond that is intelligent and thought provoking. I give it a B+.
In an 1870 France where Napoleon is building an empire, a scientist is tasked with making superhuman soldiers, but what he discovers instead is a longevity serum. Decades later in a steam-powered world, a young couple continues his work, but when they are sucked into a storm cloud, their orphaned daughter (voice of Marion Cotillard), who unknowingly carries the serum in a snow globe, is left to carry on with her talking cat Darwin (voice of Philippe Katerine) in "April and the Extraordinary World."
Debuting feature animation directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, who also cowrote the script with "Snowpiercer's" Benjamin Legrand (adapting Jacques Tardi's graphic novel) serve up a cautionary global climate change message within a grand adventure. The film, which is like Jules Verne crossed with Tintin, offers a thoughtful revisionist history within its modern science fiction.
With famous scientists like Eistein and Fermi having mysteriously disappeared, April's 1930's world is stuck in industrial times, reliant on coal. It's a colorless place where the last surviving oak tree is housed in a giant conservatory. Ten years after losing her parents, April squats within the head of a giant Napoleon statue, overlooking twin Eiffel Towers (a nice bit of wit, replacing science fiction's frequent use of two moons). A budding scientist herself, April, who shoplifts to live, is trying to reinvent the serum her parents had perfected, largely to save the life of the now sickly Darwin (who can talk as a result of inadvertent experimentation).
But Pizoni (voice of Benoît Brière), the cop who was on her parents' trail, is now after her and has enlisted young Julius (voice of Marc-André Grondin) to go undercover. He gains her trust just as she's stumbled upon her grandfather, Pops (voice of Jean Rochefort), still alive. When Pops is arrested and taken to Fort Lalette, April and Julius break him out, traveling by prop plane to a magnificent jungle where their world's fate is in the hands of a pair of giant lizards in robotic armor.
Ever seen a house turn into a submarine that does the breast stroke? That's but one of the many marvels concocted in this animation. The film gradually increases its color palette, a fun fair introducing green and purple, but even in the jungle, the colors are naturalistic, never gaudy. This ingeniously crafted story wraps with a terrific montage, a shot of a television set advancing through ensuing decades to land on a hopeful, delightful ending.
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