Movie Review - April and the Extraordinary World

Based on the work of French cartoonist Jacques Tardi, this film was up against The Little Prince at the César Awards for Best Animated Film this year. It lost, but like The Little Prince, this movie feels inspired by the Geena Davis Institute, an institute that's all about gender equality in movies, especially in what's considered children's fare. This means having girls or women in the leading role and not just making them princesses but by making them professionals or on the path of being professionals, not dependent or in need of men. The titular character is one such empowered woman. She's a scientist who seems to specialize in chemistry and biology.

Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, the aesthetic is very much a mechanical one. It's just a sea of clangy, brownish or dirty-silver machines. It's very metallic and rusty. It's almost as if the robot from The Iron Giant (1999) exploded and its pieces were used to build the world. People refer to this aesthetic as steampunk and comes from 19th century designs, which might seem odd given this movie is set in the 1940's and the start of the rocket era and outer space exploration and discovery.

The movie circumvents that oddness by beginning in the 19th century and then becoming a revisionist history from that point forward. The revisions change the Earth to keep its technology frozen for over 60 years. Thanks to a mysterious event, no progress was made after the Industrial Revolution. Advancement, particularly in the realm of electricity and electrical engineering, completely stopped. This movie gives a narrative reason for why humans still have this steampunk aesthetic. It presupposes that certain scientists and certain scientific minds who changed the course of technology were vital and without them the course would be permanently stifled. It sets up the fact that the titular character here is one such, vital person.

I don't watch a lot of animated films, especially ones from foreign countries like France or Japan, but there are things here that don't get put in your standard Disney or Pixar film. There was an Oscar-nominated, animated film called Chico & Rita (2012) that featured two characters having sex. Charlie Kaufman's Anomalisa (2015) would do the same and even feature full-frontal male nudity. This movie doesn't feature sex, but it does have a guy urinating on screen. It's not just heard, as most movies would do. Desmares and Ekinci actually show the stream of piss coming from the guy. It's kind of done jokingly but also rather casually.

Pixar would never do that. Their worlds are always full of sexless characters who don't need to have bowel movements. Yet, having a character acknowledge that humans have to urinate makes this movie feel more real. It's like a Sylvain Chomet film in that regard. Like a Hiyao Miyazaki film though, this movie devolves into the fantastical or the weirdly science-fiction.

This movie has a talking cat. Of course, talking animals are a staple in animated films, but this one claims to be so steeped in science though that it's incongruous to have a talking cat and not explain. The movie even actively in dialogue brushes off explanations for the talking cat. At least, Pixar's Up explains why there is a talking dog. It's not just seemingly this magical thing.

The talking cat here is named Darwin and it's just injected here for no reason really. In the English dub, Tony Hale (Veep and Arrested Development) voices Darwin, so it seems to be a source of comic relief, which is fine, but it remains a dangling thread. Yet, given where the third act goes, it ceases to matter, but the movie drops the ball when all of a sudden Darwin becomes the hero, the one who saves the world, and not April.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated PG for action including gunplay, thematic elements and rude humor.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 45 mins.


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