An animated adventure about a young woman of royalty who defies her parents’ wishes and traverses the ocean for the first time? Yeah, Long Way North is basically a Russian Moana. It may not have the character, humour, music, family friendliness or visual heft of Disney’s juggernaut, but both films wholeheartedly share a love for a journeywoman’s tale and that special connection some young people have with a grandparent.
Sasha takes it upon herself to search for her seafaring grandfather, assumed dead in the North Pole but only because explorers have been looking in the wrong direction. She’s smart, brave, caring, and not much else, but if you’re going to pick three characteristics for a young female lead, those are some great choices.
The men she hitches a boat-ride with aren’t so likeable. Two brothers compete for captaincy of the vessel by barking man gruff at each other while the sort-of love interest is introduced as a young creep who thinks he’s owed a kiss when he stops Sacha from falling off a pier. The rest of the male crew aren’t even worthy of names. Mind you, when one guy threatens to hit a 15-year-old girl, he is immediately punched in the face. So it’s not all bad, I guess.
For the most part, the art direction manages to be both unique and vivid with minimalist shapes, rugged brushed line work, and simple colour palettes used to visually striking effect. The characters and interior environments benefit the most in tight close-up shots. The icy landscapes also look gorgeous, though the lack of detail makes the occasional background look like a badly rendered GIF.
Long Way North is at its best when it displays the reality of arctic traversal. It’s both fascinating and quietly intense to see a ship slowly crack through a frozen surface. The film itself may not break through many emotional barriers, but it brings necessary warmth to what could have been an ice-cold conclusion.