‘Long Way North’ Review: Subtle, Sweet, Sincere

'Long Way North'

Movie Rating:


In the increasingly manic, glossy, pandering world of contemporary Hollywood animation, there’s a welcome charm to an international production like ‘Long Way North’. Although the animation is comparatively simple and the pacing not exactly guaranteed to placate ADHD-addled youth, the film has an elegance and beauty impossible to deny.

There’s still a magic to impressionistic hand-drawn animation that is unique to the form, especially on a big screen. This is a beautiful work, even if it’s likely to be dismissed by many as mere kids’ stuff by virtue of the fact that it’s animated. Sadly, that’s just how the world easily dismisses the medium. Thankfully, genuine artists like Remi Chaye are still willing to supervise the time-consuming labor it takes to push this medium into more challenging realms.

The story is simple and certainly not flashy. It’s about a 14-year-old girl named Sasha who’s part of an aristocratic family in 19th Century Russia. As is the way with the strong teen girls who lead such films, Sasha doesn’t take too kindly to the idea of being forced into a stuffy life of her parents’ design. She wants adventure and independence and she deserves it, dammit! While dodging the affections of a suitor arranged by her family, Sasha hatches a plan to find her lost grandfather. He was an explorer who went missing in the Arctic and never returned. The expeditions to find him failed, but Sasha has studied the maps of the region herself and is convinced that she knows where to look. She runs away, and after the traditional “being taken advantage of by sleazeballs in the real world” lessons, sails out to the Arctic to find him.

Remi Chaye’s film has a simplicity that’s both its great weakness and strength. On the downside, the story is quite literal and direct with little that digs beneath the surface. The pacing is leisurely, playing out with mundane realism uncommon for the form. More importantly, the animation itself is immensely beautiful in its stripped-down aesthetics. It has few visible lines, and the images are crafted almost exclusively through color and shape. The result is beautifully impressionistic and childlike, executed with an extraordinary sense of movement, place and atmosphere. It’s impossible not to admire the images and get lost in the magic spell the animators cast. The simple drawing style also allows Chaye to stage ambitious sequences well above his price range that will thrill and chill and move viewers in all the right ways.

While the story might feel a little drawn-out (even at a trim 81 minutes), its impact is strong. Chaye mercifully resists the urge to cram in any forced love stories or comedic relief without purpose. Instead, he focuses on the beauty, turmoil and growth of the journey and the spiritual bond between the strong young lady and her missing grandfather. ‘Long Way North’ is empowering, sweet and entertaining without ever condescending or manipulating needlessly to reach those goals. Young children dragged to the movie merely because it’s animated might find it a bit thin. However, anyone old enough to appreciate the craft and subtle explorations of growth and adventure in the film are unlikely to forget the journey that Chaye guides his viewers through.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *