THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"LONG WAY NORTH"
Long Way North is a wonderful reminder of two things: the glory of hand-drawn animation, and the fact that animated movies don't have to be cutesy affairs populated with talking animals and goofy slapstick. This is an artistic film that strives for a realistic feel, despite being animated. That might make it more appealing to older kids than to younger ones, but that's fine, because they will appreciate the visual beauty and storytelling elegance.
Set in late 19th century Saint Petersburg, the story concerns Sacha, a 15-year-old girl whose family is part of Russian aristocracy. She is dismayed over the disappearance of her grandfather, an Arctic explorer who never returned from a trek to the North Pole. To the dismay of her parents, who are busy trying to arrange marriage for her, Sacha runs away in an effort to find him. She believes that the search parties have been looking in the wrong place, so she convinces a group of sailors to transport her to the area where she thinks his ship can be found. What follows is a great adventure that significantly shapes her young life.
Long Way North has very stylized animation that purposefully doesn't have the excessively fluid movement of, say, a typical Disney hand-drawn feature. That's by no means an insult. Director Remi Chaye (who was a storyboard artist and the first assistant director on the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells) ensures the movie has an absolutely gorgeous painting-come-to-life look that accentuates the grandness of Sacha's journey. Especially in the North Pole-set scenes, Long Way North achieves visual majesty. The stylization helps to create a magical feel that pulls us into the plot.
Chaye also demonstrates skill in focusing on the story's emotions. Sacha lives a pampered, but controlled life. Out on her own, she has to learn how to fend for herself, but also to recognize that some people she encounters will have their own agendas and are perhaps not to be trusted. There's a wonderful empowerment message here for young viewers, girls in particular. Many of the grownups don't heed anything that Sacha has to say. They treat her like a “dumb teen girl.” Only by trying to prove herself right can she receive the recognition she deserves. Long Way North states, subtly but clearly, that kids shouldn't have their ideas or abilities dismissed. They can be strong, resourceful, and perceptive, and adults would be wise to listen to them.
Grownups and older children alike will find much here to admire. Long Way North is substantive and satisfying, with something beautiful to look at in every inch of the frame. It's easily one of the finest animated features of the year.
( 1/2 out of four)
Long Way North is rated PG for some peril and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
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