Directors: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort
Watch April and the Extraordinary World online in the UK: iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Google Play
Based on the graphic novel by Jacques Tardi (who also wrote the source material for Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec), this gorgeously animated steam-punk adventure combines delightful characters, a witty script and breathtaking imagination to produce genuine comic-book thrills. It’s odd that this French film was denied a theatrical release in the UK, because it’s easily one of the best films of the year.
Co-directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, the film is set in an alternate universe where steam is the main source of power because the world’s greatest scientists were all kidnapped before they could invent things like electricity. After a pair of prologues, the majority of the action takes place in 1941, where April (Marion Cotillard), the teenage daughter of two missing scientists, has grown up on the streets of Paris, with only her talking cat Darwin (Philippe Katerine) for company.
After receiving a mysterious message from her father – delivered by a robotic rat, no less) – April is targeted by sinister forces, so she turns to her fugitive inventor grandfather, Pops (Jean Rochefort), for help. Accompanied by street urchin Julius (Marc-Andre Grondin), April, Pops and Darwin attempt to find and rescue April’s parents, only to find themselves at the centre of a bizarre plot to take over the world. At the same time, they have to stay one step ahead of dogged Inspector Pizoni (Bouli Lanners), who’s determined to capture Pops, whatever the cost.
The hand-drawn animation perfectly replicates Tardi’s Tintin-esque “clean line” style and is utterly gorgeous to look at, with wit, invention and clever detail packed into every frame. The design of the film, from its soot-drenched Parisian streets to the various steam-powered inventions on display (the Paris-Berlin cable car, running from twin Eiffel Tower stations, is one of several highlights), is as extraordinary as the film’s title promises, making this perhaps the most fully realised steam-punk universe ever seen on screen.
Aside from being frequently laugh-out loud funny, the inspired script explores some provocative ideas (for example, the villains’ master-plan actually makes a lot of sense) and is full of wonderful surprises, all of which it would be churlish to spoil here. Similarly, Desmares and Ekinci maintain a gripping pace and deliver some cracking action set-pieces, ensuring proper old-school adventure-style thrills throughout (daring escapes, dramatic rescues, giant explosions, laser-gun shoot-outs in underground lairs, the works).
The likeable characters are intriguingly complex and the various relationships are movingly drawn – this is a great film for young female role models. On top of that, the vocal performances are excellent (even if you don’t speak French), with Philippe Katerine’s scene-stealing, world-weary Darwin the clear stand-out.
A delight from start to finish, April and the Extraordinary World is a must-see for animation fans of all ages.