Review: ‘April and the Extraordinary World,’ Animated Sci-Fi From France


A scene from “April and the Extraordinary World,” directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. The heroine’s talking cat is named Darwin.


Who says they don’t make mind-bending French science-fiction animated movies like they used to? Well, very few people, if any, I reckon. But the thought — or something similar to it — crossed my mind while watching “April and the Extraordinary World,” a beautiful, inventive and uncannily satisfying new example of animated sci-fi from, yes, France.

Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, adapting a graphic novel by the revered artist Jacques Tardi, “April” has an alternate-history peg that’s irrepressibly Gallic. In the late 19th century, a scheme hatched by Napoleon III to engineer supersoldiers scientifically goes horribly awry. The result is an early 20th century of stunted technology. Instead of wars over oil, there are wars over charcoal. And every scientist who shows promise — Einstein, Fermi, you name ’em — disappears from public view in short order.

What gives? In a sooty gray Paris with twin Eiffel Towers, April (voiced in both the French- and English-language versions by Marion Cotillard), the adult daughter of two missing scientists, seeks answers. Assisting her is a talking cat named Darwin. Among those pursuing her is a slapstick Javert of a police agent with an old grudge, aided reluctantly by a young pickpocket.

“April” arguably belongs to the genre called steampunk, but the movie’s designs and contraptions also evoke Jules Verne, the Czech animator Karel Zeman, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and more. Influences aside, the movie so teems with delightful detail and has such an exuberant sense of play that it feels entirely fresh. While it bears little overt resemblance to the 1973 French animated marvel “Fantastic Planet,” for me, at least, “April” bestows a similar sense of otherworldly exhilaration.

“April and the Extraordinary World” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested) for action and peril, including gunplay, some thematic elements and rude humor.

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