I love animated films. From Pixar to Studio Ghibli, there’s hundreds of great animations out there that prove that storytelling can be relevant and inspiring even when the characters aren’t real human beings (or human beings at all). With so many big budget studios around though now, it can make it particularly hard for the smaller, lesser-known animations to have such a great impact – which is why I felt it particularly important to watch ‘Long Way North’ as soon as it came out.
‘Long Way North’, directed by Rémi Chayé, tells the story of 15 year old Sacha(voice) , an aristocrat-born Russian girl who goes on a secret journey to find her lost Grandfather after her first ball with the prestigious (character) goes horribly wrong. Her Grandfather isn’t just anyone – he’s a well-known explorer who has gone missing somewhere between Spitzbergen and Franz Josef Land after trying to reach the North Pole and set down the Russian flag. Sacha finds a clue as to his whereabouts and, worried that everyone else has given up, decides she’s going to go there herself to find him.
This type of survival story has certainly been told before in different contexts, but it’s magical here all the same. It’s not particularly complex, yet is still gripping from start to finish as we watch a real honest and determined character do everything she can to find out what has happened to the family member she treasured most. The film is quite short anyway, but it’s so captivating that it just flies by.
I thought the animation style was beautiful – a style that perhaps isn’t used quite so widely, and yet works really well. The animation has a particular emphasis on simple shapes, and presents light and dark in a very striking fashion. I’ve seen it in indie games but not so much in film, and so this made a nice change to the more well-known drawings that we’re used to seeing everywhere we go.
I felt the style also worked brilliantly considering the harsh changes in environment – block colour helps to define the Russian architecture within the town, and simple shapes also intensify the frozen landscapes of the Arctic circle. The best scenes were where we got to view them from a distance, as they appeared more as stylised paintings than stills from a film.
It’s amazing how something so simple can bring about such strong emotion. The emotion is slow to develop, as are the characters, but it’s very strong by the end. A beautiful soundtrack by Jonathan Morali aids this, combining soft stringed pieces with more modern folk songs (a combination I felt a bit unsure of at first, but it gelled together quite nicely). The voice acting was also very believable, and I felt quite a strong connection with Sacha by the end, as well as some of the other characters.
‘Long Way North’ is a charming animation that’s appealing to both adults and children. It’s got something magical about it that will keep you entranced until the very end. If you enjoy stories that are a bit less mainstream and a bit more low-key and empowering, then this is a great one to sit down and watch with the kids. 5/5