The Other Side of Animation 206: Calamity Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

In terms of animated films, one of my favorite features from the 2010s was 2016’s Long Way North. While it was an animated film, it told a more mature story about a girl who went north to find her grandfather and protect his and her family’s legacy. Remi Chaye and his team made a compelling experience with some truly out of this world animation. It’s always a good reminder that a lot of films and shows from overseas are not made just for kids or just for adults. Storytelling in animation can span a wide grayscale of tones, themes, and experiences. The rest of the world has gotten this, and a good example of this is Chaye’s film from 2020, Calamity: a Childhood of Martha Jane Canary

Directed by Remi Chaye, written by Chaye, Sandra Tosello, Fabrice De Costil, and produced by Maybe Movies, Calamity made it big last year at the Annecy International Film Festival as the film that took home the main prize. It has gotten glowing reviews since its October release in France, and made its US debut in 2021 at the Animation First Festival alongside fellow acclaimed French film Josep. Of course, if it wasn’t obvious, this is an adaptation of the story of the famed frontier woman of the same name. So, with the year still being young, and the world of animation looking vibrant as usual, let’s dive in and see what this film is all about. 

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Our story revolves around a young girl named Martha Jane Canary, voiced by Salome Boulven. She is traveling with her father and siblings in a caravan to Oregon. While her family is not liked because of classism shenanigans, Martha is annoyed about how she is looked down upon due to her being a girl. Even the other girls and women don’t go out of their roles in the caravan. After some upsets, like her father getting injured and Martha having to take responsibility and control of her cart and family, Martha encounters a supposed northern soldier. He decides to help her and her people out, but then one night, the soldier leaves, and not only that, supposedly stole items from some of the families. Of course, with this being the period that it is, Martha is framed for the thievery and decides to go on a journey to reclaim the stolen goods. Along the way, she is joined by a dog named Pik, a young man trying to find his way in this land, and a woman who runs a mining company looking for gold. 

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If I had to pick a theme or a topic of what this film is all about, it’s about how we are perceived in this world. Whether it’s by our wealth, gender, or occupation, this film has a lot of focus on identity and how you define who you are. You can see that commentary throughout the film as you observe the small character-based interactions. Of course, with this being a western, there is a lot of lasso-throwing, adventure, and exploration through the wild. You will find yourself going through the lavish open fields and countryside, small mining towns, and encounters with Native Americans. Luckily, the encounter with the Native Americans in the film is brief but way more respectful than you would think. If this film was made in the 60s and 70s, that might be a different story, and Martha doesn’t disrespect them or talk down to them. It’s a rough world in Calamity, as our lead character has to deal with discrimination and sexism due to her gender. Martha is a great female lead as she’s tough, takes no bull from the boys and men she encounters, but is not just spunk and grit. She’s vulnerable and has a tomboyish side to her as well. She’s on par with Chaye’s previous film’s lead. While the boy she encounters after leaving her group starts out annoying and a bit much, he does get fleshed out and you get his entire arc by the end of the film. Even Samson, the northern soldier has some of the better moments in the film. It’s a wildly fleshed out film, and while there are some antics and goofy moments, they never feel like they talk down to the audience and are fairly funny. The entire experience with the story and watching this film feels more like a True Grit or News of the World than a Magnificent 7 or some melodramatic western drama. 

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Since this is by the same director behind Long Way North, you can expect the film to look downright amazing. No shock, it does look amazing. Its mix of 2D and CGI animation is gorgeous, and while there are points where you can tell what is CGI, it’s pretty consistent overall and the noticeable parts aren’t major. I love how the bodies and the world around them don’t have black outlines, and it gives a distinct look with its soft greens, browns, yellows, and oranges. It feels like a painting of the west in motion. The music by Florence Di Concilio is delightfully western with a heavy emphasis on string instruments. It’s a fantastic soundtrack with a cute song sung by a children’s choir during the credits. The voice cast is pretty good, but I have to say that my favorite performances were from Salome Boulven, Alexandra Lamy, Alexis Tomassian, Jochen Hagele, and Leonard Louf. The overall cast was great. 

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Outside of some slightly clunky CGI moments, and some of the side characters being fairly forgettable, I adored Calamity. It’s a film that shows how to write female characters well, tell a satisfying and grown-up story without having to dabble in dark and edgy for edgy sake content. It talks to you like it considers you it’s equal. Once this film gets a wider release, and a US distributor, I think everyone should watch it! I have heard rumbles there is a US distributor, but I can’t say it with full-on faith until I’m proven right. Still, if you can find some way to watch this movie, do so! Now then, one Animation First film down, and one more to go. Next time, I’m going to review the acclaimed French animated drama, Josep

Thanks for reading the review! I hope you all enjoyed reading it! If you would like to support my work, make sure to share it out, and if you want to become a Patreon supporter, then you can go to patreon.com/camseyeview. I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essential 

The Other Side of Animation 64: Long Way North Review

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(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com. It would help support my work, and keeps the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this review!)

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials