April and the Extraordinary World

Tagged: Film

French-Belgian-Canadian animated film (2015; original title Avril et le Monde truqué). Je Suis Bien Content, StudioCanal, Kaibou Productions, Need Productions, Arte France Ciném, Jouror Distribution, RTBF, Proximus, Tchack. Directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. Written by Franck Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand. Voice cast includes Benoît Brière, Anne Coesens, Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine and Jean Rochefort. 106 minutes. Colour.

A Steampunk Alternate History whose Jonbar Point is the death of Napoleon III in 1870, after he ordered Marshal Bazaine to shoot the two talking Komodo Dragons (see Uplift) created by Gustave Franklin, as he had actually asked the Scientist to produce a serum that turned apes into invulnerable warriors. Unfortunately Bazaine's ill-aimed shots led to the laboratory exploding. Thus the peaceable Napoleon IV took the throne, the Franco-Prussian War never happened and France stayed a monarchy. Some years later the world's leading scientists disappear and science stagnates – electricity is not a Power Source and Europe is stuck in a Dystopian steam age. With the continent's coal and wood reserves exhausted, the French military eye Canada's forests: the few remaining scientists are forced to work on Weapons research.

In 1931 Gustave's descendants are in hiding, seeking to perfect the invulnerability serum ("illness, old age and death will be things of the past" – see Immortality): fleeing a police raid, they board an aerial cable car liner, only for it to be destroyed by a black cloud. In 1941 Gustave's great-granddaughter April (Avril in the original) (Cotillard) continues their work, successfully rejuvenating her cat, the ageing Darwin (Katerine), who – being a guinea pig for the 1931 version of the serum – can talk. She is briefly reunited with her grandfather, Prosper (Rochefort), before he is taken to the government's weapons laboratory, where he is intrigued by a wrecked flying machine found on the sea floor. Meanwhile, April is attacked by the black cloud – fortunately Prosper's house is fitted with legs, enabling her to depart and rescue him: they leave the government's laboratory in the restored flying machine – which takes them to a mysterious jungle.

Here, kitted in humanoid Powered Armour, dwell the Komodo Dragons, Chimène (Coesens) and Rodrigue (Brière) with their children: they control the black cloud and kidnapped the scientists, who are developing advanced Technology. Chimène argues that humanity will eventually destroy itself, so they plan to send a Rocket into space, to explode and disperse the spores it carries – made immortal by April's serum – to spread life onto other planets (see Panspermia). But Rodrigue drinks the serum and announces he has re-programmed the rocket to explode in Earth's atmosphere, wiping out humanity – freeing the world for his children, to be ruled by his immortal self. Chimène protests and is murdered; their children fight each other – only to be killed when the rocket launches. Rodrigue also dies, as he was handed a test-tube of water. Meanwhile, April soaks the spores in her actual serum and Darwin boards the rocket, delaying the explosion.

With the scientists freed, science and technology now advance, though April's serum does not work on humans. In 2001 an astronaut steps on a verdant Moon ... and meets Darwin. Mars and Venus are also covered in vegetation.

The art style is that of Comics artist Jacques Tardi (credited with "original graphics creation"), with many inventive designs and interesting background details including a steampunk Dalek; Prosper's legged house is reminiscent of that in Howl's Moving Castle (see Hauru no Ugoku Shiro). Despite an unengaging romantic subplot and poor slapstick Humour – though there are nice ironical touches and some Satire – this is an exciting adventure film, whose worldbuilding provides enough depth to make it memorable. [SP]

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