LONG WAY NORTH (Tout en haut du monde)(France/Denmark 2015) ****
Directed by Remi Chaye

LONG WAY NORTH is a French (screened in Toronto in the English dubbed version) 2D animated feature from screenwriters Patricia Valeix and Claire Paoletti and director Rémi Chayé (THE SECRET OF KELLS).

For what LONG WAY NORTH lacks in modern animation - it cannot be compared to the lush expensive modern animation of Pixar and Disney Studios - it more than compensates in story and charm.  The proof is in its win of the Audience Award at the 2015 International Annecy Animation Festival where it premiered.

The film’s setting is 1892 in St. Petersburg, Russia centring on an aristocratic family.   Sasha, a young Russian aristocrat, has always been fascinated by her grandfather's life as an adventurer. A renowned explorer, he designed a magnificent Arctic ship, but he hasn't returned from his last expedition to the North Pole.  To save her family's honour, Sasha runs away. Headed towards the Great North, she follows her grandfather's trail in search of his famous ship.

The young female protagonist Sacha is as winning and charming as the story.  She loves her grandfather who has told her wonderful stories of the cold Arctic.  So, when his ship the Davia disappears, Sacha uncovers a route map which leads her to believe that the search expedition has looked in the wrong location.  Armed only with her determination, she takes a ship to the North Pole in search for her beloved grandfather.  Who will not root for such a lovely lass?

Being a fully animated film, the film avoids all the problems of having to film a voyage under extreme Arctic conditions.  Imagine having to shoot ice avalanches, a polar bear attack, the ship breaking ice and finally coming down under an avalanche.  Chaye’s animation captures both the danger and beauty of unchartered territory.  Even animated, the sight of a drawn ship tracking through the ice and water of the Arctic is stunning.  LONG WAY NORTH reminds me of the little seen excellent Dutch 1993 mockumentary THE FORBIDDEN QUEST written and directed by Peter Delpeut. The film interviews a fictional J.C. Sullivan, the carpenter on that ill-fated voyage and is the last known surviving crew member of the Hollandia.   Though THE FORBIDDEN QUEST was an amazing film, LONG WAY NORTH is able to show more hardship because it is animated.

Chaye never forgets the importance of the human elements in a story.  From the old woman at the sailor’s bar who takes Sacha in thus saving her to the young boy who forms a bond with Sacha, LONG WAY NORTH is full of heart.

Though the story is quite an improbable one demanding the audience's belief that a little girl can achieve so much, the treatment of the story like a Russian fairy tale allows one to forgive the implausibility of many events.  

The film will be released either in French with a voice cast including Christa Theret as Sasha, Féodor Atkine as Oloukine and others or in English with an English voice cast led by Chloé Dunn as Sasha with Vivienne Vermes.

(French) Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pW7JDw2Qimo

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