“There’s more to life than chemistry.”
I had never heard of Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel “Avril et le monde truqué” before seeing this film adaptation of his work – being released in America under the title “April and the Extraordinary World” – likely because I’m not a fan of so-called Steampunk. This fascinating sub-genre involves advanced technology in the hands of characters from the Victorian age, so it’s an interesting melding of ideas. The problem is that much of this fictional output is terribly insular, and attempts to bring it into the 21st Century, via films like “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” have failed miserably.
In fact, if you’re carrying any baggage from the aforementioned film into this one, particularly because of the curious use of the word “Extraordinary”, you can’t help but be trepidatious. However, the truly extraordinary thing on display in this film is the ease with which it introduces us to a world that’s more than slightly different from our own. This tale begins with the eponymous girl (voiced by Marion Cotillard), daughter to scientists who are abducted, but who makes a daring escape and makes a life for herself and her talking cat, Darwin (Philippe Katerine), in Paris. And yes, in case you were wondering, a talking cat is both absurd and adorable, but it’s also the kind of fantastical element that prepares younger viewers for the strangeness to come.
In this alternate universe, the totalitarian country of France has been under the rule of Napoleon V, who has eliminated all advancing technology by imprisoning scientists like April’s parents. This has left society to squander advancement and rely on outdated technology like coal and steam. Combine the steam with the adorably punk-ish April, and you’re beginning to get the idea. April sets out to find her parents, and ends up uncovering a plan for world domination involving dragons. Yeah, it’s that kind of thing, but it works beautifully thanks to some incredible animation.
Any young people in your life that gravitated toward Rey in “The Force Awakens” will fall in love with the endlessly resourceful April, and her relationship with police informant Julius (Marc-André Grondin) mirrors Rey and Finn’s but with a more biting edge. Like most things in the Steampunk genre, it desires to ground itself in sound science, but it only works because it’s pure fantasy. Dragons and copper dirigibles don’t go side by side any other way. While the film is being marketed as being from a producer of 2007’s “Persepolis,” don’t go into this film thinking it’s going to be anything like that film from the much more mature end of the young adult spectrum. This is a great film for 6-12 year olds, though those with younger viewers may want to seek out the English-dubbed version.
“April and the Extraordinary World” lives up to its hyperbolic title through sheer grit and determination. It’s a wonderful film for young people, but also for the young at heart, and you can’t help but fall for April’s tough but tender ways. If you go for the pure fantasy of it all, you won’t leave disappointed.