Directed by Franck Ekinci & Christian Desmares
Written by Franck Ekinci & Benjamin Legrand
As evidenced by my extensive Studio Ghibli marathon, I have a certain love of animated films. They have such potential to take us to new worlds which we’ve never seen before, and to experience things we’ve never experienced before. They are full of imagination and innovation. So when I kept seeing the trailer for April and the Extraordinary World, I was certainly intrigued by the premise of the film. Before I get into talking about the plotting of the film, or my full boar review of it, I must first talk briefly of “steampunk”, what it is, and what it means to me. To me, it means nothing, but a quick Google search tells me that “steampunk”, which is the style of this film, is in fact an affinity towards 19th century, or antiquated technology which is focused mainly on steam power and highly metallic mechanizations to produce advanced technology. Who knew?
For April and the Extraordinary World, what this means is that France, along with the rest of the world, has fallen into an innovation slump, with dated technologies such as steam power permeating into the 20th century. This is the result of the world’s greatest minds and scientists disappearing, and those that remain being tasked with developing military technology in order to wage war on North America for the ever decreasing supply of lumber, as the world’s coal has been mostly depleted. Two of those scientists were Paul and Annette Franklin, the parents of April, who now lives on her own with her cat Darwin, who speaks as a result of an experiment. April is attempting to recreate the ultimate serum developed by her parents and now missing grandfather, Pops, in an attempt to save Darwin, who appears to be dying. But she soon gets wrapped up with a boy named Julius, who is spying on her for the mean Inspector Pizoni, who has been searching for the Franklin’s his whole career.
The film is based on a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, and after having seen the film this makes complete sense because it crafts a wonderfully detailed and specific world full of imagination, but at the same time it felt like there were also missing details that could have layered on top of an already fantastic, of “extraordinary”, world and made it something akin to Hayao Miyazaki’s marvelously imaginative and crafted worlds. I give credit to Tardi and the filmmakers for translating what I would call an imaginative world based on pre-existing technology by re-imagining and re-purposing these things into a different time period to create an alternate past. In doing so, it certainly highlights the contribution of scientists on the advancement of society throughout time. But I still would have liked more little moments to explore the intricacies of this world and the quirks which make it different, and how it affects the people living in this alternate past.
That being said, the film also treads familiar territory in its admirable message, honing in on world pollution and the cutting down of all non-renewable resources in order to further the military efforts of nations as opposed to pooling scientific knowledge and advancement for the betterment of society at large, nature, and the pursuit of sustainable resources through peace. I’ve seen that animated film before, and quite frankly I’ve seen it done in a more compelling manner. Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke comes immediately to mind. But I also really liked the animation at play here, which is fairly simplistic, yet comes across as timeless, as though the film could have been produced at nearly any point in animated film history. That’s charming to me in an age riddled with overplayed and overblown CGI offerings which are often hard to decipher from one another in terms of animation style.
I certainly wrestled with this film throughout the run time. I really struggled to be completely engaged in the narrative and with the characters. It should be noted that I saw the English dubbed version of the film, which I’ve been spoiled with great dubs in the Studio Ghibli films, as I noticed multiple times where I preferred the French delivery of lines in the trailer I’ve seen so often from the English version I got within the movie. Perhaps seeing the French version would have enhanced my experience some, but it would still remain that the narrative felt a little rushed, like it should have relished spending more time within this marvelous world and with these characters to develop both a little further than what is ultimately delivered on screen. I would be interested to explore the graphic novel and compare the two, to see how many details and specific character or world moments could have been utilized a little more in the film adaptation to set it apart and make the story of April and her Extraordinary World pop a little more off the screen.