April and the Extraordinary World
APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD, animated steampunk, rated PG, in French with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
The extraordinary world of the film’s title refers to a fantastical alternate reality in which the leading scientists of the 19th century have been mysteriously kidnapped. In 1941, people live in a steampunk society where twin Eiffel Towers support the weight of a grand trolley and airships billow steam as they glide through the sky.
The title also could refer to the world in which we live, as the animated movie seems to draw from an incredible number of sources. It was produced by artists in France, Belgium, and Canada, and nicks a bit from the plucky scoundrels of Charles Dickens, the steel-and-coal science fiction of Metropolis, and quite a lot from Japanese animation — particularly in its environmental themes and slightly dystopian setting. All the while, the film retains sensibilities distinctly that of continental Europe. The title, after all, could also be a sly wink to Fantastic Planet, the surreal 1973 movie that is one of France’s most famous animated films.
Based on the graphic novel by Jacques Tardi and directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, the movie centers on a woman named April (voiced by Marion Cotillard) and her mission to learn what happened to her scientist parents, who were kidnapped on the verge of a massive breakthrough. She makes some discoveries and soon finds herself staying just ahead of government authorities and finding some unlikely companions in her quest.
The plot is merely a capable vehicle for the ideas and animation on display, and this lovely, dreamlike film is conceptually realized just enough to feel welcoming. It recalls a great deal of Hayao Miyazaki’s work, from the talking-cat sidekick that recalls Kiki’s Delivery Service to the house that crawls around on insect-like legs and may remind audiences of Howl’s
Moving Castle. The technology churns slowly and billows beautiful puffs of steam, much as it does in many of Miyazaki’s films. That could also describe the action, however: It moves at a relaxed pace that seems to slightly defy gravity and doesn’t fully feel exciting or satisfying to those weaned on Hollywood action movies and animated adventure.
That is the European nature of the film shining through. It may ultimately remind viewers of Belgian cartoonist Hergé’s The Adventures of
Tintin, with its tall figures in frumpy clothes, expressing themselves with faces marked by long noses and beady eyes. That series had a patient, civilized approach to its Jules Verne-like adventures, and so does this film. It unfurls slowly and doesn’t add up to much, but the act of watching it is relaxing and, at times, extraordinary.