April and the Extraordinary World is the title used for English distribution. The French title, Avril et le monde truqué, more accurately translates to "April and the Twisted World." The "Twisted World" is a fair description of this Steampunk dystopia, which has its roots in France's Second Empire, which is on the verge of war with Prussia. Emperor Napoleon III has engaged a scientist to create a serum that will make his soldiers invincible. The serum has not had the desired effect, and the Emperor orders the experiments destroyed, which results in a catastrophic explosion, killing the Emperor.
This is the point at which history twists aside from our world. With the death of the Emperor, war is averted and peace made. However, leading scientists world-wide begin to disappear, which causes technology to stagnate. By 1931, reliance on steam power has not only exhausted Europe's supplies of coal, but deforested the continent as charcoal has become a strategic resource.
The movie is based on a graphic novel by Jacques Tardi, creator of "Adele Blanc-Sec," and his character design style is quite distinctive. Scenery and backgrounds depict a fascinating Steampunk Paris, with the skyline defined by the twin Eiffel Towers, the cable-car railroad, and a colossal martial statue of Napoleon III dominating the world.
In 1931, the son of the original scientist, Gustave (French voice by Jean Rochefort), his son, Paul (Oliver Gourmet), daughter-in-law Annette (Macha Grenon), are attempting to continue the family work on the Ultimate Serum, while in hiding from the French police, because all available scientists are being conscripted to design new weapons for the Empire. Their young daughter, April (Angela Galluppo) assists where she can. They are raided by the police, led by Inspector Pizoni (Benoît Brière), who combines the persistence of a Javert with the ineptitude of a Clouseau. (Tardi typically depicts the French police as corrupt, brutal, and stupid. For some reason, many have Italian surnames--.) In the resulting debacle, Gustave escapes, Paul and Annette are lost in the explosion of a cable car, and April is sent to an orphanage, from which she escapes with the aid of her scientifically enhanced cat, Darwin (voice by Phillippe Katherine).
Then, we flash forward to 1941. April is grown up (now voiced by Marion Cotillard) and continuing her clandestine work on the family's serum project. The demoted Pizoni has her under unofficial surveillance by a parolee, Julius, (Marc-Andre Grondin), in hopes she will lead him to her grandfather, who is still at large. There is a war in progress between France and the United States over access to Canadian forests. Meanwhile, the mysterious force behind the abduction of scientists begins to close in on April and her work.
The story of how this all plays out is a grand adventure, with the settings, including the desert that is now rural France, well realized, and the Steampunk and other alternative technology creations depicted being worth the price of admission. I liked the fact that grown-up April is a rather plain-faced, square-shouldered young woman, not conventionally beautiful. Julius, the eventual and reluctant male lead, is a classic Parisian street youth, not conventionally handsome. Tardi's convention of drawing eyes with only black pupils but no irises is a bit unsettling at first, but one grows used to it. The characters as written are all very strong and well done, including April's grandfather, Gustave, who is the ultimate scientist.
One significant disappointment of the movie is that the ultimate crisis/climax very strongly parallels that of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. However, getting to that point, and, ultimately, past that point to a very satisfying conclusion, is very much worth the ride.
Recommended for Steampunks everywhere.
The main feature was preceded by two animated shorts, "French Roast," dealing with the embarrassment of a gentleman (drawn as sort of a French John Cleese) who, having had coffee in a café, discovers he hasn't got his wallet. Humorous complications ensue, in a beautifully drawn little movie. In the second one, "In Between," a young woman's social anxieties manifest as a cartoony blue 'crocodile' that follows her everywhere. This one was cute, sweet, and funny. These are both worth looking up, and can be found on YouTube.
French Roast: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wbmsid57MXw
In Between: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xp22IYL2uU
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