Sunday, October 23, 2016
Long Way North is a Great Film
With Canada's recent hunt for Sir John Franklin's two ships, the Erebus and the Terror lost during the search for the Northwest Passage, there was a natural Canadian marketing hook for this film. Set in Czarist Russia, an explorer sets out to find the Northeast Passage across the pole. When the ship doesn't return, everyone assumes that it sank. A search turns up nothing. But Sasha, the granddaughter of the explorer, finds some notes in her grandfather's study indicating he took a different route than expected. She argues for another search mission, but is not only refused, she damages her family's position with the royal court.
Vilified by her father, Sasha takes off on her own to prove her theory correct. Connecting with the crew of a ship thanks to the reward offered by the Czar as well as an obligation a crew member owes her, they take off following her suggested route.
What follows is a rigorous adventure, where she and the crew undergo storms, ice avalanches, bitter cold, hunger and injury. It is an uncompromising look at a difficult journey and the film pulls no punches.
The script, direction and art direction are all excellent. The story has echoes of Captains Courageous and what might be an homage to a moment in Chaplin's The Gold Rush. The characterizations are realistic.
The film, a French-Danish co-production, has an insane number of partners. Pulling together the financing for this must have been hell. And for all the film's excellence, the budget is the weak link. Act 1 is full of animation done on threes, fours and maybe sixes. The resolution of various story threads is done with stills during the end credits instead of being animated. However, director Remé Chayé has put the money where it counted. The search is doesn't skimp on animation or effects.
I can't think of another animated feature I can compare this to directly. It is like The Iron Giant in that the release has shortchanged it and people who eventually find this film will like it. It's like Castle in the Sky as it is a straight up adventure without the cuteness that plagues so many animated features.
In its second week in Toronto, it's showing just once a day on a single screen at Canada Square. The Sunday screening I attended had maybe 8 people in the audience. It was preceded by trailers for Trolls, Sing and Moana. The three reeked of formula, which made Long Way North that much more impressive. I'm afraid the film will be gone by October 28.
If you get a chance to see this in a theatre, don't pass it up. Eventually it will turn up on other screens. When it does, watch it. I wish that GKids was distributing this, as they are great at marketing independent animated features. I've seen The Red Turtle and will see Miss Hokusai shortly. I'm betting that either those films or Long Way North will get a Best Animated Feature nomination as the art film this year. Should Long Way North get it, know that it deserves it.