April and the Extraordinary World

In a paradise that’s a prison, hurting industry curtails science. In other words, environmentalism is not necessarily what’s best for human progress.

That’s what I got from April and the Extraordinary World, an alternate reality animated science fiction tale from directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci. During the Napoleonic era, an inventor, Gustave Franklin, creates a formula for super-soldiers that goes somewhat awry, giving animals the ability to speak, which horrifies Napoleon who destroys the project but not before the super-intelligent, evolved lizards escape. The result is a topsy-turvy history where both World Wars are avoided at the expense of key scientific inventions and discoveries. Oil cannot be extracted and electricity is feared, which leaves coal as the main source of progress in this steampunk vision that leaves Paris polluted and without gasoline, leading to a war of attrition with the American Navy for the rights to the Canadian forest as a resource.

For fans of Jules Verne, Tintin, Wall-E and the animated style of The Triplets of Bellville, with its deliriously detailed, distorted backgrounds, April and the Extraordinary World is an extension of that beguiling sense of human progress that’s not so different than one’s own.

Robbed of radio, air travel and today’s electronic comforts, science has been reduced to the level of sideshow magic acts! Quick to judge snake-handling creationists as anti-science, it must also be acknowledged that those wanting to limit industrial growth or punish businessmen, thus dooming Wall Street, are also ones that HATE science, not the other way around. With auto emission tests and fewer people smoking, the air of 2016 is far cleaner and more breathable than it was forty years ago. With the development of plastics and advancements in new structural technologies, there are more trees today than one hundred years ago when lumber was used for housing, railroad ties, shipping crates, pencils, pipes and carriages. The irony of April’s world is that the combustible engine was never created, and there isn’t any mustard gas or chemical anything, but everyone who ventures into the Parisian streets still must wear a gas mask!

Jump ahead to 1931, and though the Industrial Revolution has been thwarted somewhat and there is no Third Reich looming, once it’s declared that all scientists must serve the French Empire, scientists start going missing (shades of Atlas Shrugged!) Mostly the Einsteins and Pasteurs escape to Germany, but Gustave’s grandson Paul, while stuck in the age of steam, is once again attempting to recreate the “ultimate serum,” only this time instead of looking to produce warriors, he hopes to find a cure for old age and sickness. Thus far, however, he’s only been successful in producing Darwin, a talking cat companion to his daughter April, who will inherit this quest for this serum after her parents are struck by lightning.

By the time it’s her turn, the situation has devolved into a kind of “new” Cold War between pragmatists and authoritarians, with the individual as pawns for both.

For those of use who truly love animated cinema, and not just Miyazaki, films such as April and the Extraordinary World transcend graphic storytelling, harkening back to the mid-century experiences that motivated the likes of Jack Kirby, Moebius and Alex Raymond to create the graphic story genre in the first place. Science and religion were presented as different sides of the same coin, unified against anti-intellectual state-sponsored pragmatism.

At one point in April and the Extraordinary World, it’s actually verbalized by those who kidnap scientists and hope to use their gifts to their own advantage, “We don’t want her serum, it’s April’s mind that’s needed!” A case in point: April’s struggle mirrors that of Doctor Who, seeking to escape an empire of Masters on Gallifrey, only to be confronted by Sontarans, Daleks and the Sisterhood of Karn – in other words, numerous other empires of masters!

The convenient truth is that government-funded science eventually sidetracks inquiry, seeking instead to declare “settled” when in fact, all that’s been “settled” is that the state owns the mind. The Church did so to Galileo (you know, he’s mentioned in that song by Queen), and now, the current Department of Justice is considering prosecuting those who will not sign on to accept the state’s view on global warming!

The essential aspect of science fiction is for the reader to gain entrance to a world or universe that isn’t his own, but could possibly be so in the future. Whether it’s set in 19th century France or on a parallel world where JFK lived, alternate history allows us, or I should say, liberates us from having to endure the  triumph of irrationality found in many of today’s hypotheticals. April and the Extraordinary World is just such a film.