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(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to write about how one of a list of impossible things could actually happen, so I thought of a certain highly imaginative film.)

 

“Pigs can’t fly,”
They said. “Of course,
And cats can’t join
The labor force.”

“Clocks can’t chime
Thirteen,” they vowed,
“Nor rewind time.
That’s not allowed.”

But some will hear
Such sober laws,
And ask with thought,
“Why not?” because

The present world
They recognize
Is changing more
Before their eyes.

If they dislike
Such rules, they dream
Worlds where clocks strike
Thirteen, where steam

Propels machines,
Where pigs can fly,
Where magic beans
Grow greens so high,

Where men can grow
Beyond their flaws.
Imagination
Knows no laws.
___________________

MPAA rating: PG

I love animation, and I love discovering hidden gems that remind me why I love animation. April and the Extraordinary World is a delightful case in point. At a time when the U.S. and Japan seem to rule the animation industry, it’s also an important reminder that Europe has no shortage of talent and is just as likely to churn out an instant classic for those willing to search for it.See the source imageA French-Belgian-Canadian co-production, April and the Extraordinary World is one of the most imaginative films I’ve seen in a while, broadly rewriting history to create a unique steampunk setting, one in which science and technology couldn’t develop beyond the Steam Age. Vegetation has been decimated by fuel needs, and the air is thick with industrial smoke, while the scientists that could improve things have vanished without a trace. After a fast-paced introduction in which everything is significant, we meet April Franklin (Marion Cotillard in the French version, Angela Galuppo in the English dub) and her brilliant family of fugitive scientists. Due to events best seen rather than described, April grows up alone with only her talking cat Darwin (a product of SCIENCE!), and her chemist’s quest for an immortality serum soon turns into a whirlwind adventure as the French government and a mysterious group with advanced technology vie for the scientific secrets of her family.

Animation allows its creators to fashion worlds limited only by their imagination, but most cartoons are content to imagine small. It’s usually Pixar or Ghibli that brings the medium to its full potential, but so does April and the Extraordinary World, which often feels like something one of those two powerhouses would have conceived. Where else are you going to see giant cable cars that run from Paris to Berlin or a helicopter plane escaping an underwater prison? The animation has the distinctive look of a European comic (apparently based on the work of French comic artist Jacques Tardi), and although it seems like it would take some getting used to, it actually flows quite nicely, with plenty of clever detail in the settings and backgrounds. It has strong characters to boot, from resourceful April herself to her quick-witted grandfather, though, as a cat lover, my favorite has to be the talking cat Darwin (Tony Hale in the dub, which also includes Paul Giamatti, J.K. Simmons, and Susan Sarandon).See the source imageWhile the imagination is impressive, I could still recognize prior influences for April, most notably 2004’s Steamboy, another steampunk adventure featuring a young protagonist caught in the middle of a scientific power struggle with a similarly explosive ending. Plus, it’s hard to avoid comparisons to Ghibli when there’s an actual house atop mechanized legs á la Howl’s Moving Castle or a polluted atmosphere contrasted with a clean underground biome á la Nausicaä. You might also pick up on traces of Atlas Shrugged and Tomorrowland, though the latter was released the same year as this film. Regardless, April and the Extraordinary World brings all these disparate elements together into a thrilling package that’s better than most of the films I just mentioned.

With a complex and fast-paced storyline and a number of off-screen deaths, it does feel more intelligent and mature than your typical American cartoon (not to mention the detail put into Darwin’s backside), but there’s nothing to make it un-kid-friendly either. By the surprisingly satisfying end, I was just happy to have stumbled upon such an underrated gem, one that no fan of animation should miss.

 

Rank: List-Worthy

 

© 2018 S.G. Liput
563 Followers and Counting

 

 

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