Hand-drawn animated features are a rarity is this day and age. Having one shipped over from Europe that has any kind of resonance is even rarer (the last one that this critic can recall personally was The Triplets of Belleville). More's the pity, because if the aforementioned film and April and the Extraordinary World are any indication, they're making some pretty awesome animated features over there.

The year is 1941, and the world is still trapped in the age of steam and Victorian-era imperialism, following the mysterious disappearances of well-known scientists since the late 19th century. Every surface is caked with soot. The more affluent wear gas masks to protect them against the poor air quality, and so do their dogs. Society (at least in France) is positively Orwellian. The scientists who haven't mysteriously vanished are pressed into service at the behest of the government, headed by the descendants of Napoleon. Constant conflict plagues the Earth, and internecine war over trees and coal consumes the land. April lives in this dystopian nightmare with her talking cat (who's been mutated due to experiments; her mysteriously missing parents are also scientists). She seeks something called "the ultimate serum" to save the life of her cat, who's dying because he's old, for a cat. The serum is discovered, and with the man on her trail, April goes on the lam from both government forces and other strange, more sinister antagonists.

The plot takes on decidedly mature subject matters at times, and we're better for it. Death and destruction aren't shied away from, but they are not used recklessly. Every moment of action and excitement has a purpose and a cause. At the same time, the bizarre art direction (undoubtedly taken from the graphic novel the film was adapted from) has that whimsical French influence in such aspects as a mechanical spider-walking mansion, or the character of the bumbling police inspector with an intensely inexplicable hatred for April and her parents. All in all, it serves to soften the hard edges of such a depressing subject matter.

For a cartoon, this film hits on all points. It may be difficult to follow some of the plot points due to illogical (for the world the story takes place in, that is) jumps between scenes. But hey, there are animals wearing power armor and shooting laser guns. In that case, logic isn't as important as good story. April and the Extraordinary World has that in spades.

April and the Extraordinary World
PG, subtitled,
105 min.