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While I do think GKids is the best foreign/indie animation distributor, I wish more companies were like them. There are probably a slew of great foreign animated films, new and old, that we never get to see. It always seems like besides the stuff GKids brings over, companies will bring over the worst of the worst because they are cheap and won’t cost a lot to get some B or C-list celebrities to voice the characters. Not to say they are all utter schlock, but you have to look pretty hard to find one of these cheap films that are actually competent. Luckily, some companies still know quality when they see it, and to the best of their abilities, bring it over for everyone to see. You have Sentai Filmworks who brought over Short Peace, Funimation bringing over the amazing movies by Mamoru Hosoda, and now we have a new contender, Shout! Factory Kids. This is the family/children spin-off of horror/sci-fi distributors Shout! Factory. So far, their animated film offerings have been just okay. They have some unique films, like the French-made Jack and the Cuckoo Clock Heart, A Monster in Paris, which I have already reviewed, and the Canadian-produced Snowtime! And yes, I will get to them during Christmas. However, to me, their best-to-date, in terms of what they have brought over, is today’s review, Long Way North. This French/Danish collaboration is from first-time director Rémi Chayé. This might be his first directorial job, but he has been around the European animation scene for a good while, and has worked on many classic animated films. Heck, a lot of people on here worked on some of the best overseas-animated films of all time. It’s like a European animation version of The Avengers. Rémi Chayé worked on films that include The Painting, The Secret of Kells, and Eleanor’s Secret. One of the producers, Claus Toksvig Kjaer, was a producer on Song of the Sea. Another producer for Long Way North, Henri Magalon, was a producer on Ernest & Celestine. The composer, Jonathan Morali, also has his name under the critically acclaimed video game, Life is Strange. The individuals in charge of the art direction, Han Jin Kuang Liane-Cho, worked on The Illusionist, Ethel & Ernest, Zarafa, and The Little Prince, and Slaven Reese worked on Ethel & Ernest, Song of the Sea, Zarafa, and The Prophet. Like, wow, you’ve got some really good individuals involved with this movie. So, is it as good as the 100% critic score or the 80% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes rating it has as of October 23rd, 2016? Well, let’s find out.
The film takes place in Russia in 1882. We follow the story of a young Russian aristocrat named Sasha, voiced by Chloe Dunn. Sasha is still getting over the supposed death of her grandfather, Olukine, who left on a journey across the ocean to find the North Pole. After an incident with a royal snob that would have promised her father a strong political spot, Sasha decides to go off on her own to find a ship to go in search of her grandfather and his ship. What will she find? What will happen to her?
I want to start with the animation since it’s fairly unique. At least, to me it’s unique. Long Way North has a beautiful art style, but the animation is very simple. It’s not super-fast or detailed. However, it’s very expressive, and you can easily get a lot of the emotions from the characters. It’s a beautiful movie with lush countrysides, freezing landscapes, and you can essentially feel the salty air in the seaside town Sasha finds herself in during the film. This film definitely has a vibe that you would see in a Mamoru Hosoda film or something from Studio Ghibli, with characters that can be tough, but with a kind heart to them. Sure, there are some crabby individuals, and I will get to them later in the review, but this film has something that reminds me of the interactions you see in films like Castle in the Sky or The Boy and the Beast. Long Way North also has a more mature tone. It’s nice to see this be a rather dark film in the later part. You don’t know if Sasha will actually find her grandfather’s ship and make it back. Sasha is a great character who is smart, active, and is willing to learn new things, and you want to see her succeed, but man, it can be grim later on. Not enough to ruin the film, but it can be as dark as something like Song of the Sea. The overall adventure is enjoyable to watch, with the highs and lows being pretty balanced, and the highs don’t overshadow the lows.
I was hooked on this movie from beginning to end. However, I do have some complaints. They are minor, but I should bring them up. The royal prince that you see in the film should have been taken out. He has no real character besides being a spoiled jerk. Heck, he only appears at the beginning and the end of the film. I don’t see why he had to be an ignition point for the story to get started. Why not have Sasha find the navigations on her own, and then try to deal with her parents, who are not outwardly dealing with the loss of the grandfather, but don’t want to hear that there might be a possible way to find out what happened to him. I also feel like they could have made the film a bit longer. The real end of the film is the still frames in the credits. It would have felt more powerful if we got to see it all in motion. The pacing could also use some work. Long Way North flows pretty well, but there are some bits all over the movie that could have been better.
Long Way North might not be anything innovative or groundbreaking, but it’s a freaking good movie. It’s simple, but well executed. It’s hopeful, but it’s not afraid to be tough. It has simple animation, but it’s gorgeous and well done. If you have a theater playing this movie, you should really see it. It’s one of my favorite films of 2016. It’s easily in my top 10. It’s also coming out on DVD in January, but still, find some way to watch this great movie. Next time, we will look at one of the most popular Japanese films of recent years with Miss Hokusai. Thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed the review, and see you all next time!