Mid-20th-century Paris doesn’t look exactly as you’ve seen it in the imaginative, animated “April and the Extraordinary World.” People travel by bicycle-propelled dirigibles, and the city has two Eiffel Towers, side by side. That’s a practical choice, not an aesthetic one; the structures form a transportation gateway where people board and disembark from airborne cable cars.
How did this happen? For decades, scientists have been disappearing. The best of the best — Einstein, Pasteur, Edison — have all been abducted, which means that most innovation stalled somewhere around steam engines. That also explains the movie’s grim, gray palette. The city is covered in soot.
One scientist has managed to evade capture. April (voiced by Marion Cotillard) is a young third-generation potionmaker who hasn’t seen her parents since they vanished during a peculiar electrical storm a decade earlier. Since then, she’s been hiding out, conducting experiments inside the head of a monumental public statue with her only friend, Darwin the talking cat (Philippe Katerine). He is, at least, an entertaining conversationalist.
The adventure begins when April gets word from a cyborg rat that her parents are still alive. Off she goes to find them with Darwin and their new acquaintance, Julius (Marc-André Grondin), a shady guy whom April wants to trust but definitely shouldn’t.
The movie was directed by Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, who also co-wrote, with Benjamin Legrand, the adaptation of Jacques Tardi’s graphic novel. In truth, the story is practically beside the point with all the spectacular visuals. The steampunk aesthetic might be overdone, but there’s still a lot here worth marveling at, from the image of a polluted Paris’s last tree — a massive oak — inside a mausoleum, to the house that transforms from a run-of-the-mill structure into a multi-limbed transport vehicle that can travel over land and underwater.
The animation is hand-drawn, giving “April and the Extraordinary World” a retro feel compared with so many computer-generated Pixar creations. But the style fits the subject. Innovation has its place, but imagination is just as important.
PG. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains action and peril, including gunplay, and rude humor. Most showings will be in French with English subtitles; some matinees will be dubbed in English. 105 minutes.