Forget the otherworldly whimsy of Hayao Miyazaki or the indelible oddness of Sylvain Chomet, and get ready for a two hour expose of social injustice and environmental maladies. Based on the graphic novel of the same name, “April and the Extraordinary World” is set in a dystopian, revisionist history where the 1930s and 40s are monochromatic voids of darkness and pollution. There’s not much levity here. Even Darwin, the adorable pet cat in the film, is having coughing attacks for a good thirty-percent of the feature.
Directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci render a charcoal past where scientists disappear, dying animals dream of Rome, and children beg for coins – take that, Disney! How to draw in kids? Begin your animated picture with the black-and-white animated likeness of Louis Pasteur, of course. “April and the Extraordinary World” is too cold for children, and too untenable for adults. This is the kind of project that is stuck in animated purgatory, next to other intolerably atonal movies such as “My Dog Tulip” and “Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest”.
In “April and the Extraordinary World”, the globe is bereft of technology, and lives, almost exclusively, off of coal – soot inundates the lungs of our Parisian heroes. The skies are so polluted, in fact, that citizens attend fairs in World War 1 era gas masks – this sounds like a future Bioshock video game, I realize. There are more blimps, top hats, and antiquated modes of webbed aircraft in this movie than at a steampunk meetup in the food court of a mall. Our heroine, April, is the daughter of missing scientists. She lives alone, in the head of a giant statue, like the pigeon in “American Tail”. Toiling endlessly for a potion to eradicate mortality, April exhaustively breaks beakers and spills chemicals. Meanwhile, her pet cat asks inappropriately odd questions such as “what’s it like to have your tongue licked?” Um, what? The alternate title of the film is “April and the Twisted World”, which makes it sound as though it was a Lemony Snicket story – in this particular case, too bad it wasn’t.
Although the movie’s warm and staccato animation is deliberately rough around the edges, the tone and style becomes increasingly dour and siphoned of life as the story unfolds. The industrially archaic aesthetic of the film draws deep shadows, suffocating the viewer in rust and overcast skies. For the picture to explore complex themes, such as death, social inequity, and environmental malaise, the film’s characters are curiously absent of the multidimensional personalities required to broach the aforementioned topics. Instead, what we have is a tool box full of loose bolts, ineffective voice acting, and disorienting pacing issues. “April and the Extraordinary World”, opening today at Ken Cinema, is hot air in more ways than one.