'April and the Extraordinary World': Behind Gkids' Animated Adventure

Set in an alternate steampunk world, it's based on the graphic novel by Jacques Tardi.
Courtesy of StudioCanal

Indie distributor Gkids has enjoyed remarkable success during the past few years. Its latest gem, French import April and the Extraordinary World, begins its limited U.S. release on April 1 after a one-week run in New York.

It's hard to ignore a Gkids animated film. The distributor earned two Oscar nominations for best animated feature earlier this year for When Marnie Was There and Boy & the World. And in 2015, it bumped presumed frontrunner The Lego Movie out of the race with a pair of nominations for Song of the Sea and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.

April is a hand-drawn film based on the work of graphic novelist Jacques Tardi and produced by Je Suis Bien Content, the animation studio that made the Oscar-nominated 2007 animated feature Persepolis.

Set in 1941 Paris, April introduces an alternate steampunk world where progress has been stinted by the disappearance of the world's great scientists. April, voiced by Marion Cotillard in both the French and English versions, comes from a family of scientists that were lost in an accident as they were on the brink of discovering a longevity serum. Ten years after the incident, April is secretly carrying on her parents' research when she finds herself caught in a conspiracy and on the run from government agents and some mysterious cyborgs.

Of how the project began, co-writer and co-director Franck Ekinci related: "I met Benjamin Legrand, who was Jacques Tardi's screenwriter for the graphic novel Tueur de Cafards. ... It was Benjamin who organized my first meeting with Tardi and who had the idea for this story about the kidnapping of the world's greatest intellectuals, which leads to a huge technological delay, turning the history of the world on its head."

"What I liked immediately is the Jules Verne-style universe  a retro-futurist adventure in a world of iron and steam," said co-director Christian Desmares. "The themes that are dealt with are interesting, the race toward progress. ... 'Science without conscience is nothing but the ruin of the soul' is Rabelais’ famous maxim in Gargantua."

"The characters are neither completely good nor completely bad; it is more subtle than that," he continued. "And Tardi’s mockery was retained. Everything the protagonists attempt to do fails. One of the strengths of the screenplay is that it’s difficult to predict what is going to happen."

Desmares, who was also the animation supervisor, related that Tardi was involved with the film, particularly during development. "We spent time together so that I could learn the subtleties of his drawing and be able to adapt it based on the technical constraints of animation," he said. "That means removing the details and keeping the essence of the Tardi style, such as the shape of a nose or the fold in a garment."

April previously won best animated feature at the 2015 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, and earlier this year, it was nominated for France’s Cesar Award.