Old Rope seldom gets to watch cartoons these days. They are mostly reserved for long haul flights when I catch up on modern Disney or Pixar films. Many a flight attendant has seen me bawling my eyes out over the dramatic antics of the Toy Story gang, or Moana or whoever. “More complimentary wine sir?”, they ask. “Please,” I splutter, mustering all my dignity and wiping my tear-streaked cheeks and snotty nose on the proffered napkin.
During lockdown I found time to watch the third (and probably final) recco from Giro, April and The Extraordinary World. This is not, in fact, a Poundland knock-off version of the Lewis Carroll classic, but rather a 2015 animated film directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. The original French title, Avril et le Monde truqué (or ‘April and the Deceptive World’), should further remove any confusion with Walt’s fifties take on the 1865 novel.
April (not Alice!) lives in a world where Napoleon died in 1870, in search of a super-soldier serum, on the eve of the Franco Prussian war. Prominent scientists have been mysteriously going missing ever since. With famous smarty-pantses like Enrico Fermi, Albert Einstein and many others now seemingly erased from history, key technological developments did not happen on this version of Earth. By the 1930s the planet is stuck in the age of steam, with coal supplies exhausted and trees largely wiped out, all to fuel industrial progress. Smog fills the air, dark satanic mills dominate the landscape and France is engaged in a perpetual war in the Americas for control over Canadian forests and their precious supplies of wood. This is, quite literally, the darkest timeline.
The few remaining scientists on the continent are either on the run, or forced to work for the French Empire, the House of Bonaparte having survived Napoleon’s untimely death. April Franklin’s parents (Paul and Annette) and grandfather (Pops) are very much in the former clandestine camp. They continued to work on the super-serum promising eternal life, though their work has so far only yielded a talking cat, called Darwin. Hounding them through Paris is gendarme Gaspar Pizoni, basically an out of shape Thompson Twin turned bad.
The plot focuses on the adult April (voiced by Marion Cotillard), now alone with an aged and dying Darwin. Along with street thief Julius and the rediscovered Pops, they get caught up in the truth about the disappearing scientists. Incidentally on the subject of the enfeebled cat, Old Rope hasn’t felt such emotions over a talking cartoon animal since Friar Tuck got clapped in irons in thrown in jail. He’s both the heart and comic relief of this piece and as usual I ended up resenting the film makers for making me feel so much for a fictional furball. Good job flights are grounded or the stewards would see me sobbing again.
The film is poignant but a good adventure romp at the same time. It’s not a traditional love story, though there is plenty of the good stuff to go around – paternal, fraternal, platonic, plant-onic and even planet-onic. No spoilers, but it gets progressively more bonkers as it goes on. It’s fun and heart-warming, some much needed traits a month into lockdown. Granted, the world it portrays is bleak and dystopian and, ahem, not at all like ours (they have two Eiffel Towers fer crissakes!), but like all the best sci-fi it is really a reflection of our own times. Though markedly different in tone, the themes of an alternative history and the power of positive, socially conscious, science have parallels with Elan Mastai’s excellent All Our Wrong Todays. Can’t go wrong with a bit of fork-in-the-road fiction I reckon.
April and The Extraordinary World offers a message of hope in the face of environmental and biological bleakness, something we here on our Earth could all do with right about now (watched during the 2020 pandemic and given US cops choice of violent tactics against BLM demonstrations, the gas masks they wear feel a little close to the bone). If only our world had an unknown team working to save the planet. Oh wait, perhaps you don’t need a big boffin brain to spot that this is allegorical… perhaps we do have those heroes after all, just waiting to be heard. The extraordinary world is right under our noses, waiting to flourish. We just need to show her a little love.