Long Way North, 2017.
Directed by Rémi Chayé
Featuring the voice talents of Christa Theret, Féodor Atkine, Antony Hickling, Audrey Sablé, Thomas Sagols, and Chloe Dunn.
Long Way North is a nice little animated film that demonstrates how hand-drawn animation is still viable in this CGI-filled movie world. It’s a story that stars a young Russian girl in the late 1800s – that might sound boring, but Long Way North takes chances with its story and they pay off. This Blu-ray + DVD combo pack has a solid complement of bonus features.
CGI animation may be all the rage these days, but there’s nothing wrong with traditional hand-drawn animation too, just like physical models shouldn’t vanish from the moviemaking process just because you can build the same thing in a computer. In fact, I would argue that these days, hand-drawn animation is where you’ll find more people taking the kinds of artistic risks that Pixar used to take in its early days, when folks though they were crazy to try to make movies with computers.
One such hand-drawn film is The Secret of Kells, a 2009 effort that dabbled in more adult themes. Rémi Chayé worked on that film, and he later secured enough funding to make Long Way North, which is available now in a Blu-ray + DVD + digital copy combo pack from Shout! Factory. It’s part of their Shout! Kids Factory series, but don’t let the kiddie moniker fool you: This is a movie that adults can enjoy too.
Long Way North is set in the late 1800s. The protagonist is a young girl named Sacha, who longs to find out if her grandfather, an Arctic explorer who vanished on his way to the North Pole, is still alive. She comes from a wealthy family, but she’s not afraid to defy her parents and strike out on her own to find her grandfather. An impending arranged marriage helps spur her actions.
Sacha manages to get help from a ship’s crew eager to cash in on the quest, but not before she learns about the kind of hard work that girls like her typically manage to avoid their entire lives. The men begrudgingly begin to respect her as she proves herself a valuable member of the crew. Unsurprisingly, there’s a burgeoning romance with one of the younger men.
The setting isn’t one you would typically expect to find in an animated film, and the story unfolds at a more leisurely pace than one expects to find these days, but the plot is a bit predictable. Sacha discovers she’s capable of more than she realized, the men learn not to judge a book by its cover, and the ending is bittersweet. However, there are some nice moments that don’t always hit the notes you might expect, such as when the ship’s captain dangles from a cliff and begins to slip from his first mate’s grasp – Just as he accepts his fate, the scene takes a pleasantly unpredictable turn.
The animation is simple and minimalist and the audio sounds a bit hollow. It’s obvious that Chayé tried to stretch the money he raised as far as he could, but this isn’t a movie where one should expect Disney-level production standards.
Shout! included a nice set of bonus features, starting with a two-minute conceptual short that presumably was used to convince people to invest in the movie. There’s also a series of animatics and still galleries of character designs and concept art.
The centerpieces of the bonus features are a 39-minute behind-the-scenes featurette and a half-hour interview with Chayé and producer Henri Magalon. The former takes the viewer on a journey through the film’s production, including the shooting of real life scenes that served as source material and footage of the voice actors in action. The latter covers the project from start to finish.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★