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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that April and the Extraordinary World is a subtitled (or English dubbed, depending on which version you see) French animated adventure inspired by graphic artist Jacques Tardi. The steampunk alternative-history adventure takes place in a France overrun by pollution because the all energy is steam- and coal-powered. Some of the plot details may confuse really young viewers, and the peril, gun violence, threats, deaths, and intense climactic battle may frighten others. A young girl is orphaned early in the story after her parents are electrocuted (this is shown, but it's not graphic), and there are sad moments when she believes her dear friend has died. Expect a few mild insults like "dirty swine" and a couple of kisses. Kids who can follow the subtitles and the action will be rewarded with a sophisticated, riveting adventure about the power of scientific innovation in society.
What's the story?
APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD is a French animated film based on Jacques Tardi's graphic novels that reimagine history: Early 20th-century France is completely coal- and steam-powered, ruled by Napoleon's heirs, and devoid of most scientists, who were long ago kidnapped or went into hiding, leaving the empire without technological innovations. A young woman named April (voiced by Marion Cotillard in the original French version and Angela Galuppo in the English dub) is the only surviving member of her family of scientists; her parents were killed 10 years earlier trying to protect an invincibility serum, and her grandfather went missing. April has spent her orphaned decade in secret, accompanied solely by a talking cat, Darwin (Philippe Katerine in French; Tony Hale in English). Detective Pizoni (Bouli Lanners in French; Paul Giamatti in English), an angry inspector who couldn't capture April's family members, assigns young Julius (Marc-André Grondin in French; Tod Fennell in English) to follow April. But Julius and April end up hitting it off, and they discover that not only is April's grandfather, "Pops" (Jean Rochefort in French; Tony Robinow in English), alive, but mysterious forces are trying to get a hold of the serum April has been perfecting. Will releasing it restore France or further doom the country?
Is it any good?
Fabulously animated, this fascinating alternative history adventure may confound the youngest animation fans, but it's a mature and compelling story for older kids and teens. Once you buy into the premise, you'll root for April and Darwin no matter what obstacles they face. Tardi's work has been compared to that of Charles Dickens and Jules Verne, and the comparisons are obvious in the movie: April is the sort of melancholy but brilliant orphan worthy of a Dickens novel, and the story's adventure portion is reminiscent of Verne's famous tales.
The romance is slow and sweet (at first, Julius doesn't even think April is all that pretty, but as he gets to know her, he realizes how truly extraordinary she is), but it's obviously not the focus of the plot, which remains on April and her relatives. Darwin provides much-needed levity, as does the bumbling Pizoni, who pratfalls and injures himself comically throughout the film. There's a third-act twist that's a tad out there, but if you stick with it, you'll be satisfied with the future that April, Julius, Darwin, and the rest of their crew makes happen.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about April and the Extraordinary World's violence and scariness Was it more or less violent than you expected? Do the scary scenes have less impact because they're animated?
What makes something an "alternate history"? Does this movie make you interested in learning more about actual French history, the Industrial Revolution, and the scientists featured in the story?
Are there any role models in this movie? What makes them worth emulating?
What is the role of science and innovation in society? How does the lack of scientists and scholars affect France in the movie?
- In theaters: March 25, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: August 2, 2016
- Cast: Marion Cotillard, Philippe Katerine, Jean Rochefort, Angela Galuppo, Tony Hale, Paul Giamatti
- Directors: Christian Desmares, Franck Ekinci
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Cats, dogs, and mice, Friendship, Great girl role models, Science and nature
- Character strengths: Courage
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: action/peril including gunplay, some thematic elements and rude humor
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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