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April and The Extraordinary World (2015)

A single event can have consequences that ripple throughout history. Storytellers have often wondered how real-world events could have unfolded differently, and created a world different from the one we know. In April and The Extraordinary World it was the (fictional) early demise of France's (real-life) Napoleon III that created an alternate timeline. With the Emperor dead, the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 never took place, and the Second French Empire never fell. The greatest scientific minds of the era began mysteriously disappearing, resulting in a radically different world, where electricity was never harnessed, and the age of steam continued well into the twentieth century.

In alternate history 1940's Paris still ruled over by the Napoleonic dynasty (no World War II in this timeline) we follow feisty teenager April as she searches for her scientist parents, who vanished ten years previously.

In its original language (this is a France/Belgium/Canada co-production) the film is known as Avril et le monde truqué- literally translated as April and the Twisted World. In this case, though, the English title seems more appropriate, as the world of this film is genuinely an extraordinary creation. The alternate steam-punk Paris presented here is a fascinating one, complete with billowing chimneys and the iconic sight of twin Eiffel Towers looming over the city.

The city here is in its own way as big a part of the success of this film as in more big-budget efforts like Zootopia or Big Hero 6. The lovingly-crafted world that this takes place in is full of minor details that make it completely believable and absorbing. It's grey skies and shadowy government forces mean it wouldn't make an ideal spot for your next holiday, but it's a perfect backdrop for this story to unfold in. A third act twist sees the action move to an unexpected location, but this too is equally well depicted, but contrasts starkly with the setting of the majority of the film.

Visually the film is outstanding with a look that presumably could have been torn directly from the graphic novels by Jacques Tardi that inspired it. Clean lines and no-nonsense designs will make this look familiar to anyone familiar with the Franco-Belgian comic tradition- and it translates sublimely well to animation. The beautiful 2D animation meshes well with some extremely well-integrated CG for a very effective look.

The story itself plays out as a fairly straight-forward adventure romp. With madcap chases and enthralling action-packed set-pieces, it's clear that it comes from the same storytelling tradition that birthed the likes of TinTin and Largo Winch. Some have rushed to compare it to the works of Hayao Miyazaki, but really outside of a feisty young heroine and one sequence that directly recalls Howl's Moving Castle this feels very much it's own thing.

Characterisation is painted in pretty broad strokes, but it seems appropriate for what after all is quite a cartoonish tale. April herself though is a lovable lead, feisty and determined and fiercely intelligent too. It's also a nice reminder that it's entirely possible to have an adult female lead who isn't sexualised in any way. The other standout character here is the talking Cat Darwin who comes close to stealing every scene he's in. The villains are mainly bumbling oafs, but some introduced towards the film's climax are given some surprisingly identifiable motivations.

This is a film with plenty of charm to spare- a fact that becomes clear right from the wonderfully creative opening credits. This is absolutely full of beautiful touches and background details to make you fall head-over-heels.

We didn't have the chance to check out the dubbed version, but is seems that this is a film that is in all likelihood best enjoyed in it's native language. The English version has an impressive cast, but the French version (featuring Marion Cotilliard in the lead) seems more appropriate. The film just feels wonderfully, gloriously French and the original language just adds to this atmosphere even more. This distinctly Gallic mood follows right through until the bittersweet final moments.

April and The Extraordinary World is a movie which truly lives up to its name. French animation seems to be riding a wave of success at the moment and April deserves to share in the glory. Animation fans of all kinds should do their best to seek this out, and see it on the big screen if possible. Mes amis, ce film est magnifique !

APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD is in limited release in the US via GKIDS. See our list of screenings here.

*Screener provided by GKIDS Films*