We take a look at this charming and affecting animation…
In this pathologically charming French animation, it’s the times of Imperial Russia, and Sasha, a young aristocrat, is after her grandfather. His ship went missing somewhere in the frozen Northern wastes while he was trying to find a route clear through to the Pole. Now, there’s a hefty reward for whatever crew can manage to find and salvage his ship, though of course the money isn’t important to Sasha, a forthright and straightforward young woman, who only really wants to know the fate of her dear grandfather. But she can’t get the arrogant son of the Tsar to pay her any interest, even when she discovers a navigational chart among her grandfather’s effects that shows that all the previous crews have been searching in the wrong locations entirely. So she’s left with no other option but to run away from home, stowing aboard a train and avoiding all the while the state police, she fetches up in a small port town, trading her earrings for passage on a voyage whose crew she eventually convinces to go along with her projection of her grandfather’s course.
From there, we follow the voyage of Sasha and her newfound crew, and it is this journey that makes up the bulk of the film. We know, of course, from “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” through Heart of Darkness to Aguirre, the Wrath of God, that maritime endeavours are nothing but gruelling struggles with madness, that one is not travelling a linear course through the water but plotting the dark territory of one’s very soul, and that’s the case here, too, as the crew grows increasingly resentful of Sasha, her being young, and being rich, and inexperienced, and female, and responsible for their whole lousy endeavour. And that’s where Sasha’s seemingly inexhaustible capacity for endurance comes into it. If it sounds like amazingly heavy stuff for children, well, it is and it isn’t. It is, in that no, the picture doesn’t pull any punches, and it is more likely to make its viewer think of The Revenant – including bear attack – than anything on the order of Pocahontas; but it isn’t, in that children actually take these things in their stride pretty well. Possibly it’s because children have an innate sense of adventure that seems to corrode with age, and if isolation is the price to pay for following your dreams, then, heck, so be it.
Still, we the audience are given the happy – if ever so slightly bittersweet – ending that we expect, and really it would be just too depressing if we weren’t. And, along the way, we are treated to a film that’s intelligent, emotionally mature, heartwarming in the right way, heartbreaking in the right places, and just ever so lovely to look at. The animation is traditional, flat, simple, and hopelessly nuanced, imbuing its key moments with the mystery, wonder and plain beauty that one associates with the very best animations, the ones made formerly by Disney and latterly by Ghibli. The screening I attended was dubbed in English, and dubbed perfectly cromulently at that. I’d like to see a subtitled version, with the original voices intact, but it is a film for the kids, and not all kids can read yet, you know! About the only real complaint was that the occasional original songs, done in that faux-epic pop style that makes the end credits of every teen movie sound like they’ve been scored by Bastille, destroyed the immersion, especially when compared with the score, which was lovely and exciting and brave and sad, just like the film it complemented so well.
Long Way North opens today (17th) in cinemas, will you be checking it out? Let us know in the comment box below!