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April and the Extraordinary World - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
April and the Extraordinary World
Directing: B+
Acting: B
Writing: B+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: A-
Animation: A-

April and the Extraordinary World leads with an odd concept: in the late 19th century, Napoleon III is killed in an explosion at a lab where he's pressuring scientists to create invincible soldiers -- but they instead create a couple of animals that can talk. And then things get a lot weirder from there, especially when we meet those animals again much later in the film, their reappearance creating the greatest leap in weirdness.

In the meantime, scientists the world over are mysteriously disappearing, which creates a full century of no scientific discovery. So once this early-20th-century little girl named April loses her parents -- also scientists -- and another ten years go by, she's living in a steampunk world in which wars are waged not over oil but over coal. It's 1931 and there is only one living tree left in Paris. People travel by suspended cable car between Paris and Berlin, the Paris station consisting of twin Eiffel Towers -- a rather memorable, surrealist touch in this beautifully realized and detailed, dark world.

This is a movie that defies genre. It may be a cartoon, but it's more thriller than family entertainment, although it's still perfectly appropriate for older kids. It has its share of humor, giving me several giggles and at least one gut-punching laugh. But it's more adventure than comedy. It has a healthy dose of mystery. Shown in its original French (with Marion Cotillard voicing the title character), the English subtitles tone down the language a bit: at one point a character says, Merde!, which is French for shit, but the subtitle says, "Dang it!" That cracked me up.

Science is a big theme in this movie, but it's certainly more fantasy than science. World tensions revolve around access to Canadian forests. How all of Paris could survive with only one tree is anyone's guess. There's a "serum" April's parents invented that does indeed make whoever drinks it immortal. In one of their failed experiments to create it, just as occurred with Napoleon, it makes April's cat able to talk instead of making him immortal. So, one of the main characters is a talking cat named Darwin.

After ten years go by, Darwin is old and sickly. I'm not sure why April is so healthy, in spite of her still being young. They live in a world covered in soot, as if all Parisians lived in a coal mine. Actually, as the narrator states, they run out of coal and move on to charcoal. Somehow they seem to be powering all of Europe this way. Not that there's much reason to nitpick here; the movie is wildly inventive in its narrative scope, and far more structurally solid as a story than most animated features are. It may be complete fantasy but this is a fully realized, incredibly detailed world.

April and the Extraordinary World is based on a graphic novel of the same name by Jacques Tardi, and the colorful (if soot-soaked) world it presents feels very much like living inside such pages. And there's something deeply affecting about the story's increasing absurdities -- the more preposterous it gets, the more affecting it is. Being a foreign film is very much to its advantage, offering a sensibility we would never get from any American filmmaker. If this were pitched to Hollywood filmmakers, it would never fly.

Even as it is, distributed as an animated feature with subtitles, not nearly enough people in the U.S. will go see this movie. There's something telling about its critic score on Rotten Tomatoes being 97% but the audience score being lower (at 88%) -- it's usually the other way around. But some Americans just don't get it. They might if they gave it a chance, though. You should. This is one strange movie but that doesn't make it any less entertaining.

Marion Cotillard is the voice of APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD.

Overall: B+
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