April and the Extraordinary World (2016; Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci)
By Daniel Barnes
Pure enjoyment, but then I’ve always been in the bag for humanist sci-fi, lizards wearing robot armor, unusual and meticulous production design, and adventure stories where one of the heroes is a brainy woman and the other is a talking cat.
A cheeky but emotionally mature vision of a retro-future past where Napoleonic rule continued into the 20th century, but a string of unsolved kidnappings of famous scientists kept the world stuck in the steam and coal age, April and the Extraordinary World feels utterly fresh and genuine compared to a please-all-masters appeaser like Disney’s Zootopia.
Married scientists Paul and Annette are working to create a serum of invincibility and immortality when they’re captured and presumed dead. Years later, their determined daughter works in secret to recreate the serum, aided only by her self-aware feline Darwin, but pursued by the same forces that took her parents.
Marion Cotillard voices April/Avril in the French-language version that I screened. Other voice actors in that cast include the legendary Jean Rochefort and Olivier Gourmet (meanwhile, Paul Giamatti, Susan Sarandon and J.K. Simmons contribute to the English-dubbed version). It’s part steampunk whimsy, part Lost-like mystical conspiracy, part science vs. nature philosophical discourse, part slapstick-laden intellectual hero’s journey, but all respect-yourself-in-the-morning animated fun.