It’s likely that the little animated gem “Long Way North” will get buried under the massive pile-up of December releases.
And that would be a shame since this import from France not only features one of the strongest young heroines we’ve met this year but also serves as a gentle reminder that hand-drawn animation is often better than what gets dreamt up on a computer screen.
Animator Rémi Chayé’s first directorial feature is a winner. Set in the late 19th century, it’s an adventure tale anchored around the exploits of Sasha, who embarks on a bold journey to discover what happened to her explorer grandfather and his ship bound to the North Pole.
Born into Russian aristocracy and facing an arranged marriage, Sasha bucks tradition by flaunting her parent’s wishes and eventually navigating her way into work aboard a vessel headed to the region where her grandfather and his ship disappeared.
Sasha is a spitfire, a focused young woman who’s both smart enough to outwit the crew and courageous enough to get the job done when they can’t. Throughout her journey from Saint Petersburg to the Arctic, Chayé’s detailed animation makes us feel her unwavering resolve as well as love for her grandfather’s adventurous spirit.
But what I appreciated most about “Long Way North” was how it allows time for us to fully experience its atmospheric, evocative images and does so in such an unhurried, non-antic way. There’s no rancorous soundtrack to trigger that certain emotional switch, no rush to explain everything that is happening. And this old-school way of spinning a story — animated or not — is worth not only respecting and preserving but holding ever so dear to our hearts.
LONG WAY NORTH
1 hour, 20 minutes
In French with English subtitles
PG (for some peril and mild language)
Playing at the Roxie in S.F.