Every year, Oscar voters typically recognize at least one little, lesser-known gem in the race for Best Animated Feature. They nominated the touching When Marnie Was There last year, they nominated the delightful Ernest & Celestine a couple years before that, and the Academy will hopefully nominate April and the Extraordinary World this year. Adapted from Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel, this whimsical French production ranks right up there with Zooptopia and Kung Fu Panda 3 as one of 2016’s finest animated outings. The best word to describe the experience is “magical,” which is ironic since April and the Extraordinary World is grounded in a world of science.
The film exists in an alternate reality where science never progressed beyond steam technology. Over the course of 70 years, scientists have been disappearing for unknown reasons. In this extraordinary world resides an intelligent young woman named April (Marion Cotillard), who was separated from her scientist parents years ago. April’s closest companion is her wisecracking cat Darwin, who’s reminiscent of Gigi from Kiki’s Delivery Service. Through her research, April discovers a serum that holds the answers to sending mankind back on the right path. Targeted by mysterious forces that want the serum, she teams up with a charming scoundrel named Julius and sets out to learn the truth.
Director Christian Desmares previously worked on Persepolis while director Franck Ekinci worked on The Adventures of Tintin series, which really shows here. At its heart, this film is a steampunk adventure in the tradition of Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and various other Studio Ghibli productions. At the same time, the screenplay also has much of the clever writing and character dynamics one would find in a Pixar or modern Disney picture. Even some of the slapstick and quick comedic timing is reminiscent of a Chuck Jones cartoon or Sylvain Chomet film. Although April and the Extraordinary World mixes together several different ingredients, it manages be to its own utterly unique product.
On top of being a visual marvel, the characters here are a lot of fun too. April in particular is a different kind of animated heroine. For starters, she’s a highly independent woman with a scientific mind. Of course that’s not her only character trait. She’s also funny, caring, and passionate with Marion Cotillard never missing a note in the role. The cast additionally includes April’s quirky grandfather, as well as a chubby police inspector who’s somehow simultaneously driven and lazy. The most memorable character of all is this insanely inventive world that entrances the audience from start to finish.
If there’s a problem with the film, it’s that the conspirators behind everything that’s going on are kind of well, silly and random. It’s hard to explain why without giving away any plot twists, but let’s just say you’ll likely raise an eyebrow. Even then, though, the filmmakers still deliver some great character designs and it by no means ruins an otherwise extraordinary film. Full of eye-popping images, charming personalities, and unparalleled atmosphere, the good folks at GKIDS have uncovered another treasure with April and the Extraordinary World.