Last night, I joined an actual madcap trio (which I’ve always wanted to do) and went to see the movie April and the Extraordinary World. You have never heard of this movie. It is animated, French, and even here in LA it’s only showing in subtitles and in two locations. All I knew about it was a cool picture of a young woman running across rooftops, and a clip of a house running away.
We’ll start with the super-short version, for those who want to skip to the point. The movie is great, go see it.
Now to unlimber the details.
For starters, I should have paid more attention to the cat in the rooftops picture. The cat is a major character. He is a talking cat, because this is a movie about steampunk mad science. This ‘extraordinary world’ (a closer translation from the French is ‘twisted world’) is one where technology stopped advancing in the 1870s, because Mysterious Forces are stealing all the great scientists. We follow three, possibly four generations of one family pursuing a formula for immortality, while being pursued by both the French government and those Mysterious Forces, who want their genius.
As a technical review, the best word for this movie is ‘flawless.’ That is, it has no mistakes. Everything it does, it does right. A few things it does exceptionally. The story really hangs together. You can see where everything was foreshadowed, and for one of the biggest plot twists they do a great job of diverting you so you forget about the hint. The wit translates wonderfully from French to English. The characters, especially April, Pops, and the talking cat Darwin, are super charming. There are no lulls. Even the exposition at the beginning to lay out the world is fun, accompanied by alternating hilarious and grim illustrations!
So, let’s get personal. I have nothing to complain about. What did I personally like the most? April is totally unlike an American heroine, smart, strong, humanly flawed, not classically pretty, but you can certainly see why her love interest is attracted to her. Pops is in the running for greatest old man in the history of cinema. Insanely smart, always one step ahead of his enemies, caring about his family but a little distracted by his own technical genius. The police officer Pizoni at first looks like the classic ‘fat, incompetent policeman’ trope. Oh, no. Pops may be one step ahead of him, but Pizoni is never more than one step behind, in one case literally shooting down brilliant escape plans.
The art has a French flavor, a subtly different animation style from American. Less stylized, but more varied, especially in drawing people. The studio uses it cleverly, for example with different layers moving across each other to create an artistic pretend perspective in the opening. The interplay between the talking komodo dragon couple is powerful and lively. Also, there’s a talking komodo dragon couple. How cool is that?
Who would like this movie? Pretty much anyone who’s even open to animation as a medium. The French are a little open minded (gasp, cat balls!) for the particularly prudish, but the subject matter suits child and adult, there’s spectacle and cleverness, fine humor and serious emotion, and lots and lots of freaking awesome steampunk.
Go see it.