Saturday, December 31, 2016

April and the Extraordinary World (2015, English version 2016) ***

I like a movie that is audacious enough to completely let its imagination run wild, and “April and the Extraordinary World” is such a movie. This French, animated movie, based on a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, imagines an alternate history where the Franco-Prussian war doesn't happen, and neither do WWI and WWII. Sounds great, but there's also this situation where the scientists of the world have been disappearing, and without the advances they would have brought, Europe is stuck in the steam age, burning up first its coal, then its trees, for energy.

Meanwhile, the Franklins, a multi-generational family of scientists, are working on an invulnerability serum. They work in secret, because the French Empire is conscripting scientists to build weapons for the coming energy war. Thus far, all they have done is create a talking cat named Darwin, but they feel they have finally perfected their serum. Then the law busts in, led by the bumbling Inspector Pizoni. Grandfather “Pops” escapes, while Paul and Annette either disappear or die, leaving their daughter Avril (voiced by Marion Cotillard) to fend for herself. Avril ekes out a living on the streets of Paris while trying to continue her parents' work, until the mystery of the disappearing scientists catches up to her.

The film never explores the question of why the Franklins continue working on this invulnerability serum, which any thinking person must realize is a dangerous idea. One wonders why they don't work on an alternative energy source for their smog-choked society. Still, this is a movie for kids, and it is action-packed enough that they aren't likely to question its premise.

The Japanese seem to get all the animation cred, but for my money some of the best non-Pixar, animated films these days come out of France. Consider “The Triplets of Belleville” (2003), "A Cat In Paris"  (2010), “Ernest and Celestine” (2012), and my personal favorite, "A Town Called Panic"  (2010). I wouldn't quite put “April and the Extraordinary World” in the same class with those films. It's feels more kid-oriented. It's a decent film, though, better than most of what you could watch with your kid.

3 stars out of 5