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Film review: April and the Extraordinary World

Film & TV

French retro meets Japanese anime in this twisted tale of a young scientist and her talking cat.

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Like award-winning French animators Alain Gagnol (A Cat in Paris) and Sylvain Chomet (The Illusionist), directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci and graphic creator Jacques Tardi have created a visually remarkable film that celebrates the wonder of hand-drawn animation.

April and the Extraordinary World gives retro mid-century imagery (also beloved by Gagnol and Chomet) an interesting sci-fi twist.

Using animation reminiscent of Bernasconi’s Tintin but with the surreal edge of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, the film imagines an alternative mid-century Paris where giant airships clunk and whir across the skies and coal-fuelled cable cars lurch up and down through Parisian streets.

It’s a fabulous pollution-pumping, steam-punk world, peppered with Heath-Robinson-style inventions and rendered in an almost monochrome palette with muted red and green highlights.

However, unlike any of the aforementioned films, the pacing of April and the Extraordinary World is plot rather than character-driven. And the plot is complicated.

It begins in 1870 when April’s great-grandfather, working on a serum that will make humans invincible, discovers a formula that gives animals the power of speech. Before he can develop the formula, his lab is blown up and two talking lizards escape.

Sixty years later, in a world where scientists are mysteriously disappearing, April’s grandfather (Jean Rochefort) and parents are working in secret on the invincibility serum. They are forced to flee when a squad of policemen, led by Inspector Pizoni, discovers them in their hideout. During the chase, a strange lightning-zapping black cloud attacks April’s parents, leaving her orphaned.

April (Marion Cotillard) is far from the usual Disneyfied animation heroine; she is neither conventionally pretty nor conventionally likeable. Instead she is a determined and slightly grumpy scientific genius.

Alone in the world except for her talking cat, Darwin (Philippe Katerine), she carries on her family’s search for the serum, relentlessly pursued by Pizoni and the mysterious cloud.

There’s a whole lot of plot crammed into the film’s 105 minutes and a simpler storyline might have allowed the characters and their relationships more time to manifest. However, it’s hard to find serious fault with a creation pumped so full of delicious visual detail that even the opening credits are a joy to watch.

Elegant old-school animation and a resistance to formulaic storylines and stereotypical good-versus-evil characters make April and the Extraordinary World a fabulous antidote to Hollywood CGI meh.

April and the Extraordinary World is screening again at Palace Nova Eastend on April 8, 16 and 17 as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival, which continues until April 24.

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