The animated French family film April and the Extraordinary World will have your imagination doing somersaults and cartwheels.
Adapted from the steampunk graphic novel by cartoonist and author Tardi, this exquisitely crafted, wondrously original treasure is set in an alternate universe where electricity was never invented and people have to power their lives with steam.
It’s a version of 20th-century France where neither technology nor democracy ever took root, and it is the second film adaptation of Tardi’s fanciful work.
Set in the 1930s and 1940s, April and the Extraordinary World gives us a Paris filled with goofy-looking airships, chubby cable cars, televisions that run on charcoal, and cars with big, copper-colored chimneys.
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There has been no scientific innovation for more than 50 years, because all the world’s greatest eggheads have been abducted by an unknown power. Those who remain have been enlisted by the emperor Napoleon V to help win France’s bloody energy war with Canada over the New World’s coal mines and forests.
The story focuses on a decade-long quest by a teenage rebel scientist named April (Marion Cotillard) to find her abducted scientist parents. Things are looking dire: Her only friend, Darwin (Philippe Katerine), a talking cat who homeschooled April, is getting older and sicker every day.
The premise is fantastical, even mad, yet the filmmakers create this crazy world with such attention to detail, such conviction, such emotional force, that the movie draws you in from its opening scene and grips you in its thrall.
It will delight kids while slyly subverting adults’ assumptions about the inherent goodness of Western civilization. Before you know it, you realize you’re watching a parable about allowing fear of our neighbors to turn science into a tool for oppression rather than a creative force for good.
You can take or leave the political message. You don’t need it to fall in love with April and the Extraordinary World and revel in its sheer beauty.
‘April and the Extraordinary World’
Rated PG for action/peril including gunplay, some thematic elements and rude humor. 1:45. Kentucky.