Sometimes “kids’ movies” are only that because they aren’t too scary or sexy for kids to watch. Films like “The Little Prince” and “April and the Extraordinary World” are suitable for kids but lovely, inventive and smart enough for anyone. Abandon any animation prejudice, and you have here two opportunities to marvel at visual beauty. Besides, CGI is so pervasive in most films at this point that many could be considered largely animated.
The long-awaited animated version of the beloved book “The Little Prince” hails from material that has long transcended categorization by age. Adults continue to marvel over the sophisticated poetry and philosophy of the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry illustrated book long after childhood ends. The cartoon, starring the voices of Jeff Bridges, Rachel McAdams and Paul Rudd, was abruptly dropped from a theatrical release and just came out on Netflix instead.
Attempts to flesh out the original book into a more traditional narrative are uneven. There is a plot concerning a harried contemporary girl and her friendship with the Aviator (Bridges) who introduces her to a story he wrote about a magical young man he met long ago, the Little Prince. When that story is told, a magical, papery style of animation is used, and it is stunning, a marvel nested in the middle of a more average film.
However, when that admittedly idiosyncratic story is fleshed out, and the young girl faces the challenges of growing up and sets out on her own to find the prince, the metaphor gets a bit strained, and the plot becomes that of a less-original kids’ movie. “The Little Prince” is overall still a good example of a good kids’ movie, but the segments that truly capture the source material are absolutely extraordinary.
Not, perhaps, as extraordinary as the dreamscapes in “April and the Extraordinary World,” a stunning adventure from French cartoonist Jacques Tardi. This extraordinary world of an imaginary France in the 1940s is an alternate history in which technology stopped developing around the time of steam power, due to the mysterious disappearance of the greatest scientific minds, zapped by a traveling black cloud. Any surviving scientists are pursued by the government and forced into service.
The titular April is the child of a family of generations of scientists. When they are chased by both the government and the black cloud, she is left to grow up alone and in hiding, with only her talking cat as company. Ten years after her parents disappear, she has a secret lab within a giant metal statue of Napoleon (he wins in this version of history and leaves a dynasty of Napoleons behind), trying to recreate her parents’ lost serum for human invincibility. A series of events leads her to discover the truth about her family and the world at large.
April’s adventures are exciting and imaginative, but my kids could still follow the plot. It is compelling, not convoluted, and, best of all, takes place in an imagined steampunk world that is wondrous to behold. Parallels between the alternate past and our current world are interesting to contemplate, but they don’t bog down a plot that involves a Susan Sarandon-voiced lizard lady willing to do anything to save life on earth from humanity’s devastation. Just go with it — the journey is extraordinary indeed.
“April and the Extraordinary World” is currently available to rent.
“The Little Prince” is currently streaming on Netflix.