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Review: ‘April and the Extraordinary World’ is an Ingenious & Sumptuously Designed Steampunk Marvel

Review: 'April and the Extraordinary World' is an Ingenious & Sumptuously Designed Steampunk Marvel

An invention, the tangible result from an idea constructed
in the human imagination, represents a piece in the puzzle that is the course
of progress whether it means advancement through bellic endeavors, the
simplification of tasks, or the preservation of life. Modern civilization is
the result of a sequence of inventions and discoveries that evolved through the
efforts of tireless men and woman dedicated to science and technology; however,
as it’s always the case, mankind has been know to use its most creative minds
for selfish and power-hungry pursuits.

Setting these concepts and preoccupations in an alternative
steampunk reality based on the graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci’s  “April and the Extraordinary World” navigates the curious
possibility of a world where innovation stalled and in which humans must deal
with the ramifications of this occurrence and adapt their lifestyles to the
available practices. What emerges from this concoction of brilliant notions inspired by the source material and the filmmakers’ input is a highly ingenious and
sumptuously designed tale anchored to an assertive, intellectual, and
unconventional heroine. This delightfully sophisticated charmer firmly establishes itself as a visual marvel and one of the most originally confected animated films ever made. 

Distancing its premise from similarly themed science fiction
escapades, which work under the pretense that audiences must accept the universe
at hand without much insight into its inner workings and origins, the film
commences with a brief introduction that singles out a historical event
responsible for the retrograde state of development. In this whimsical revision set in the mid-1900s Napoleon’s
lineage still reigns, as a major conflict with France’s major enemy to the east
was avoided. The consequential outcome for this deviation is a world in which
coal, rather than oil, becomes the preferred fuel leading to massive deforestation
and smog substitutes air. Scientists are
perceived as a commodity whose brilliance must benefit the empire in its
pursuit of new lands with forests to harvest. Fighting a war with the US over
Canada’s natural resources to fulfill its power needs is France’s priority
while another threat develops under its surface.

Academically
gifted an empowered by an audacious spirit, April (Marion Cotillard) is a young woman whose perpetual mission is to find her parents, Paul (Olivier Gourmetand Annette (Macha Grenon), and grandfather Pops (Jean Rochefort), all of whom are scientist that disappeared
10 years prior under mysterious circumstances after being persecuted by the
authorities just as they were about to test a serum that would make any living
creature immortal. Now, April, whose chemistry knowledge is unparalleled, is
attempting to recreate said formula and reunite with her singular pack.

Given that her venture and those
of her immediate family have such immeasurable stakes, there are a few less
than friendly figures seeking to capture her. Pizoni (Bouli Lanners), a robust, arrogant, and
insanely persistent officer, wishes to use her as a vehicle for discovering
where Pops is. Enlisting Julius (Marc-André Grondin), a scrawny young man willing to do the dirty
work to avoid punishment for his deeds, to follow her, Pizoni hopes to regain
the status he lost because of April’s folks. Thankfully, the brave girl has her
talking cat Darwin (Philippe Katerine) as her most valuable comrade. Talking
animals have never been so unforgettably enchanting and comically joyful as
April’s pet. Romantic and irreverent, Darwin is a scene-stealer that keeps one
grinning continuously due to his amusingly tongue-in-cheek one-liners.

An array of characters
like this pair with astoundingly intelligent writing makes for a framework that
is taken to its greatest possible potential for wonder via the gorgeously
crafted animation in display. Add a large portion of explosively candid humor to
the mix, and the formula for a perfect work of wondrous art is created. From Einstein playing in a band, to a visual gag on
what the Statue of Liberty would like if France wouldn’t have been friendly
towards Americans, to its mesmerizing reimagining of Paris with two Eiffel
Towers and uniquely appropriate public transport and infrastructure, “April”
grabs hold of cell animation and dips it in a potion distilled from the works
of iconic Japanese masters and considerable influence from other successful graphic
novel adaptations into the medium.

Its genre-bending aspects are so fabulously calibrated, that
is hard to pinpoint an exact designation for the spell the film casts other
than how deliciously twisty it is. Near its final act, “April” introduces a
group of villains directly extracted from a deranged fable, in the most
authentically surprising manner. This coincides with the sensibilities of a
film that isn’t afraid to fully experiment with the freedoms that fiction in
this vein permits. Desmaeres and Ekinci’s leading lady, voiced with grace and
chutzpah by Academy Award-winner Marion Cotillard, comes from a long line of
male scientists, but though the fact that she is the first female born in the
family to also pursue the field, her gender is never observed as an impediment
or particularly special trait. It’s never about whether she can do it not based
on her being a woman, but about how her unquestionable abilities can be used
for good. When so much of current
media glorifies instant fame or content about exploiting
physical beauty for financial gain, to see an intrepid role model focused on
the significance of using one’s hard work for the greater good utterly reinvigorating.

Power corrupts, especially in the hands of temperamental
beings, and that’s a crucial point that “April” tackles from a thoroughly
enjoyable perspective. Since selfish pursuits are common occurrences in our
past and present, it’s clear humanity can’t be trusted with its own treasures.
Therefore, erudite thinkers are recruited as pawns in a new intergalactic plan
to save Earth’s beautiful vegetation. The uncompromising ambition of the film’s
scope is as captivating as the detailed cinematic frames that convey it, and in
that sense, the exuberant journey it follows from its opening sequence to the riveting
conclusion feels like a natural progression. Not a single contrived or even
lightly forced plot point in sight.

As the pages reminiscent of comic
books from a much more artistically driven bygone era grace the screen in their
moving iteration, “April and the Extraordinary World” transcends the
constraints of steampunk literature and embraces traditional animation is if
the two had been in perfect symmetry from the beginning. What “April” argues
underneath the aesthetically extraordinary frames and its thrilling action is
that science is magic at human reach,
which takes our perseverance and purpose as a metaphorical wand. Choosing to
use each newly found incantation for benevolent causes and not malevolent
desires is the real battle.

“April and the Extraordinary World” is now playing in New York and Los Angeles. The film is being released by GKIDS, the 8-time Academy nominated independent animation distributor. 

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