It certainly is extraordinary!
by Martin Hafer
I recently reviewed a Japanese film and was left a bit indifferent by the film. It’s a shame, as I really love animated pictures. Thank goodness I found April and the Extraordinary World…an animated movie that was delightful and really, really unusual. It isn’t so unusual because it’s in a steampunk world…a few other films have explored this same sort of material. However, the film offers far more in this odd alternate universe…and it makes the film worth seeing. Fortunately, it just debuted on DVD and is available through Netflix.
When the film begins, you learn that this alternate tale of planet Earth diverged for our reality in the 19th century. Apparently Napoleon III was a bit of a nut and was intent on using his top scientist to create super-soldiers which the French could use against the Prussians. However, the experiments were failures and soon the French and Prussians made peace. His successor, Napoleon IV, was also a bit of a nut…and tried as well to use the top scientific minds to make super-weapons…but, oddly, soon all the scientists began disappearing…and so the world never experienced the gains of the 19th and 20th century. Electricity never really came into widespread use and instead the world was a dirty, deforested strange steam-driven place…and the French were part of an empire dedicated to war with the United States…a war for resources as the Europeans had completely exhausted their natural reserves.
Time passes and soon the story soon involves a family torn apart in the 1930s. Napoleon V’s agents have been searching for the scientists and a few of them are in hiding in Paris. Soon young April and her scientist parents and grandfather are all separated and the young girl is raised in an orphanage. A decade passes. April lives in a secret hiding place with her talking cat…yes, I said talking cat. Anyway, government agents are looking for April…and assume they can use her to find her family and the other scientists. Here’s where it gets weird…yes, weirder than the talking cat! It seems that most of the scientists, including April’s parents, are working with aliens…yes, aliens! What are they working on and how does April figure into all this? And, how does the cat become a hero? See this clever mind-bending film and find out for yourself.
This project has an unusual pedigree. It originally was a graphic novel…which isn’t unusual. But it was made and financed by French, Belgians and Canadians! The overall product is a very nice bit of escapism. I liked the story very much as well as the characters. My only complaint, and it’s so small that I barely want to mention it, is that the characters themselves weren’t drawn to the highest standard. The background and much of the animation was lovely…but April and the rest don’t exactly look like Disney or Studio Ghibli quality. I found I was able to look past this.
So who would enjoy the film? Well, most anyone except younger kids. It is not cute or child-oriented in any way and younger kids would probably be confused and bored. The youngest I’d show it to are kids about 10. Try it if you love anime, try it if you love more traditional animation, try it if you like sci-fi or try it if you just want to see something different. I’m glad I did.