April and the Extraordinary World (2013)
Written by Franck Ekinci & Benjamin Legrand
Directed by Christian Desmares & Franck Ekinci
April Franklin is a woman living in a world where history took a markedly different turn than our own. During the reign of Napoleon III, a scientist is charged with creating animal-soldier hybrids. He creates two hyperintelligent beings that escape and soon after the world’s greatest scientists and engineers begin disappearing. This impediment to progress leads to a mid-20th century where energy is still based primarily in coal and steam power. April’s parents and grandfather vanished years ago during a government crackdown, and she has been fending for herself alongside her genetically altered cat friend Darwin. The two uncover a plot to destroy humanity and the secret solution for the ultimate formula, a serum that would make all life impervious to harm.
April and the Extraordinary Work is based on the artwork of French cartoonist Jacques Tardi, not a particular work of his but more the worlds he builds in his books. That is the film’s greatest strength, interesting alternate history with some broad swaths of the differences painted across the landscape. I wanted to know more about this amazing world, but I don’t believe the film truly lives up to its title. We get a very walled-in version of the world with only hints at what it is like in other locales. It’s a very Franco-centric viewpoint, and I would have liked to have seen other locations and how they were transformed by perpetual coal burning.
This film sits in a strange place between a children’s animated adventure and a slightly darker tale about a complicated alternate history. As a result, you’ll find your attention varying throughout the picture. I was deeply engaged at the beginning as the table was being set for what appeared to be a fun play on European comics like TinTin. The story slides into some dull cliches near the middle, bickering between April and the inevitable love interest. The twists and turns won’t surprise anyone who has watched movies like Indiana Jones, which is also an influence on the film.
As contemporary animation goes, April is an excellent piece of two-dimensional classic cartoons. The bold outlines and use of scale throughout creates some gorgeous images. The level of detail incorporated showcases some magnificent draftsmanship. I would imagine a large coffee table book focused on the production design would be fantastic.
There are some profoundly relevant themes approached during the film, particularly about humanity’s consumption of energy and the power of the state to oppress its citizens. However, because the film is having a slight tonally problem, these ideas are just introduced but never explored or brought to a thoughtful conclusion. Overall. April is a great film for a first watch, but I can’t imagine there is much to warrant a return visit.