In the second half of the nineteenth century, France's Emperor Napoleon III had ordered the top scientist to create for his army a supersoldier out of animals that would be obedient and invincible, but it did not go entirely to plan, and thanks to his own aggressive stupidity his orders ended up blowing himself, his second-in-command and the scientist to smithereens. Since this caused a great upheaval, the planned war with Prussia never went ahead, Napoleon IV invested in steam technology instead of anything that might create electricity, and the world's scientists were mysteriously kidnapped when they were not demanded by law to work for France's war machine now that the coal had run out...
Which was an overinvolved manner of saying this story was one of those alternate universe science fiction affairs, giving its opening ten minutes over to setting up its world which could be summed up in one word: steampunk. That was a subgenre of the fantastical medium not often explored by films, and more often to be found on the page, so it would be no surprise to you to learn April and the Extraordinary World was based on the graphic novel Avril et le monde truqué by renowned French comic book artist Jacques Tardi, the second of his works to reach the big screen after Luc Besson had a crack at The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec some five years previous to this little item.
Which was probably more faithful to the spirit of its source, if only because directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci took Tardi's artwork and slavishly animated it as close to the drawings as they could, genuinely resembling a French or Belgian bandes-dessinées that had sprung to life. Though the computer animation at times betrayed itself with some movement that was a shade too slick, all in all it was a very artistically successful effort all round as far as the visuals went. The story too, was very much in that very involved manner where a carefully conceived world was designed to be as self-contained as possible, which may turn out to be a little too difficult to find a way into for the casual reader, or indeed viewer.
So this was a film that you needed to meet halfway, and accept all the quirks and rules of its scenario which if you paid attention would be drawn together fairly neatly: if nothing else the creators truly invested in this bizarre world that made its own sense, after a fashion. The steampunk being what it was, taking the Victorian trappings and applying them to flying machines and incredible weapons wielded by the sort of megalomaniacs who James Bond would be more likely to tackle were this in a more recognisable landscape, this did not ease off on the heroics, which centred on its titular heroine April (voiced by Marion Cotillard), daughter of two scientists who are carrying on the work of trying to divine a formula that makes creatures, and by extension people, invincible. However, they are operating illegally in secret.
That science must be in the service of the weapons industry was a major theme, which evolved into pointing out that space exploration and medicine were even better applications for the world's finest minds by the action-packed climax. Actually, there was quite a bit of action here in a film that barely paused for breath, not even when you thought it might benefit the plot which tended to race through its ideas big and small. When we catch up with a fugitive April, her parents ten years gone, she is mostly trying to create the immortality serum to keep her cat with her for all time, and not pass on as it is about to; it is a talking cat as well, a by-product of her parents' experimentation, therefore bringing out another theme in that April has to learn that connecting with other people is an important part of life, and you should not shut yourself away to conduct research that may well affect a significant amount of them. It all took a surprising turn into a guarded pro-environmental vein which acknowledged mankind was too able to destroy, but that did not have to mean we did not preserve and nurture either, April's essential feminine nature taking care of that. Nicely done. Music by Valentin Hadjadj.