The primary influence for this wonderful animated adventure are the graphic novels of Jacques Tardi, but it also reminded me of the weird, wild imagination of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. An alternate-history, steampunk fantasia, April and the Extraordinary World bemoans humankind’s preference for warmongering technology over peaceful nature. And there’s a talking cat.
The title heroine comes from a family of scientists who were mysteriously kidnapped when she was a young child. Now a young woman in 1941 Paris, where the Napoleonic Empire still reigns and electricity has yet to be discovered, April and her snide, well-spoken cat Darwin become embroiled in a conspiracy that’s somehow related to her family’s disappearance.
April (voiced by Marion Cotillard) is a compelling, no-nonsense character, but the star of the film is the production design, overseen by directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. Soot and steam seep into every frame, so that you can almost sense the picture wheezing. April’s hideout is the head of a giant statue in Paris; when she turns her lights out at night, the statue appears to blink. The city is crossed by steamships that are attached to sky rails. Later, a mansion transforms into a walking figure with arms and legs. There is also an undersea laboratory run by the Empire, as well as a subterranean jungle below that. The movie’s wonders never cease. Just when you think you have a grasp on this extraordinary world, it finds a new way to wow you.