1941. France asleep in the nineteenth century, governed by steam and Napoleon V, where scientists vanish mysteriously. Avril (Marion Cotillard), a teenage girl, goes in search of her missing scientist parents.
In 1941, the world is radically different from the one we know from history books. Geopolitics has developed strangely: Napoleon V rules France and, for the last 70 years, scholars have been mysteriously disappearing, depriving mankind of their inventions. Without radio, television, electricity, aviation, and the combustion engine, the world is mired in outdated technology, dozing in the previous century's knowhow dominated by coal and steam. In this bizarre universe, Avril (Marion Cotillard), a teenage girl, Darwin (Philippe Katerine), her talking cat, Pops (Jean Rochefort), her grandfather, and Julius (Marc-André Grondin), a young scoundrel and police informer, go off in search of Avril's parents, two of the missing scientists. The quartet will face many dangers and mysteries in this strange new Rigged World. Written by
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The best (and a bit of the worst) of European animation
There is much to love, but also a bit to dislike about "April and the extraordinary world" (the correct and more interesting title is "April and the twisted world"). Its story explodes with creativity, especially compared to US animation (which tends to severely underestimate the intelligence of children). Its "ligne claire" - animation style is both a break from US-animated CGI, which hasn't been successfully adapted in Europe, and an homage to the patron saint of European comics Hergé (co-director Ekinci did, in fact, do the storyboards of the 1991-92 "Adventures of Tintin" TV series, which is often considered to be the best adaptation).
Leaning on Jacques Tardi for the visuals is a reminder that BD (bandes dessinées) adaptations work best in the classic animated form. One cannot help but compare "April" to Luc Besson's real-action adaptation of "Adèle Blanc-Sec", Tardi's most famous work. That movie was a commercial success, but BD fans were disappointed with the humorization of a serious story-line and the cheap-looking effects.
What's not so great about "April" is that it's so voluntarily old-fashioned that you may have a hard time convincing your kids to watch it. The character expressions and movements are very static, the heroine is not designed to express emotions through gestures. That is very Tardi, very Adèle Blanc-Sec (which translates as "dry white", after all). But what works fine in a BD doesn't necessarily work in a movie. It seems that French animators still cannot bring themselves to realize that the times they are a-changing, and that a l'art pour l'art approach cannot reinvigorate an expiring industry, apart from justifying a 9.2 million budget (against which it has earned 5%).
Given the character's lack of expression, the film relies heavily on the dub, and I must say other actresses could have done more justice to the part of April than Marion Cotillard - Mélanie Laurent, for instance, or Chiara Mastroianni who voiced Marjane Satrapi in her BD autobiography "Persepolis". Cotillard is a fine actress but she has a tendency to exaggerate, which can be entertaining but also quite unnerving - just look up her death scene in "Dark Knight rises" on Youtube if you don't (painfully) remember. Jean Rochefort, on the other hand, is wonderful as "Pops", April's grandfather. He speaks his lines with great candor and veracity, as does Olivier Gourmet as the father.
So what you get to watch here is a very creative, if old-fashioned animation, which could be of more merit to adults than kids, who may find it hard to follow and perhaps somewhat boring. This is not a perfect European animated film for the whole family - that would be last year's Irish "Song of the Sea". It's also not a fandom film for BD connoisseurs, as the dub and continuity jar a bit, and as there is no commitment to a mature audience, like in the works of Sylvain Chomet. But if you're starved for anything animated that is not Japanese or yet another US CGI-film about talking animals, this one is definitely for you.
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