Long Way North is set in the late 19th century Saint Petersburg. Sacha, a young girl from the Russian aristocracy, dreams of the Great North and anguishes over the fate of her grandfather, Oloukine, a renowned scientist and Arctic explorer who has yet to return from his latest expedition to conquer the North Pole.
Sacha has always been fascinated by the adventurous life of her grandfather and has the same calling as Oloukine to be an explorer. But Sacha's parents, who already made arrangements for her marriage, strongly disapprove the idea to say the least. Defying her destiny, Sacha flees her home and launches an adventure-filled quest toward the Great North in search of Oloukine and his ship.
With the likes of Pixar and every other animated banner under the sun, it's very difficult or nearly impossible to make an animated film that can compete visually with these big powerhouse animated studios. With all of the flashy animation and detailed characters in every moment, it's hard for an old fashioned hand drawn animated film to garner a big box office success, let alone a big enough audience that will hold the younger generation's attention. There are several animated films out there of recent years that fit the hand drawn animation category, most of which come from Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli enterprise, which relies more on story and deep characters, rather than the glitz of something from DreamWorks or Disney.
First time filmmaker Rémi Chayé is no stranger to the animated world, as he worked in the animation department on films such as 'The Secret of Kells' and 'The Painting', all of which have a very distinguishable and simple look to them. You won't see Buzz Lightyear or Nemo here. Rémi Chayé decided to give this French-Danish animated film his first go, which despite the simple and clunky animation, the story and characters really drive home this emotional story about loss and finding one's self without dipping into the "been there, done that" category. It's not all about the intricate visual details here with Rémi Chayé's 'Long Way North', but rather the transformations of all the key characters and the story they tell.
'Long Way North' follows a young Russian Girl named Sacha, who is born into a very wealthy family. With all of the opportunity that has been given to her through her young life, she has also been told not to be apart of certain things, as her parents have her life planned out to marry a prince and be by his side. Come to find out, Sacha's grandfather, Oloukine was a famous explorer who disappeared in the North Pole to claim it for Russia in the 19th century. After a few random clues pop up at Sacha's family mansion, she realizes that her grandfather may still be alive, which forces her to leave her life of luxury and set out on a grueling journey to find her grandfather.
I know this sounds like it has been done before with a young wealthy girl who wants to find herself, but it's so much more than that. The ship crew she travels with all have deep characters and are searching for something, and each character goes through a transformation to better themselves. It's not always the standard story telling either that you've seen in previous films before either. The simplistic nature of the story and how Sacha accomplishes her journey is breathtaking, even with the non-flashy animation, which in my opinion, tells the story better and makes for a more beautiful picture. I wish more animated films had this much depth to them, because I really connected with these thought out characters from start to finish, leaving 'Long Way North' one of the better animated films of the year.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Long Way North' comes with a 50GB Blu-ray Disc, a DVD copy, and a Digital Download from Shout! Factory or shall I say Shout! Kids and is Region A Locked. The only insert is the digital download here. The two discs are housed in a hard, blue plastic case with a cardboard sleeve. The artwork has other artwork on the reverse side.
'Long Way North' comes with a 1080p HD transfer presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The picture is gorgeous and a very simple way. There are no black outlines on any of the characters or background images, but instead, every color just bleeds into the next. There isn't a lot of detail with the animation either, but rather big blocks of animation with very subtle lines to give a small hint of depth here and there, but otherwise the animation is flat, which is a stylistic choice to enhance the story and characters.
The fluid motion or lack thereof of the actual animation can be distracting at times, especially during the heavier action scenes, but it still plays out nicely. The color palette here is very warm with no real color popping vibrantly off screen. Again, this is a style choice. There is some minor banding and macroblocking, but it's nothing to write home about. For the film and its original style, this video presentation looks great.
This release comes with a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, which you can choose the original French version or the dubbed English version. Of course, the French version sounds far better and with the English subtitles, should be your chosen option. The English version works too, but it takes some getting used to as it sounds canned and stock for the most part without a lot of emotion behind it. That's not the case with the French version. The sound effects of the water splashing on the ship to the bitter cold wind blowing in the North Pole all sound full and robust.
Ambient noises of the men singing on the ship as well as people chattering early on in the film fill the surrounds with great depth. The score never drowns out any sound aspect and always adds to the drama in each scene. The dialogue is always crystal clear and easy to follow along with the English subtitles, and free of any pops, cracks, hiss, and shrills. There is a tiny bit of a low end with bass here, but not as quite as much as I'd like to see for an adventurous animated film.
Conceptual Short (HD, 2 Mins.) - This is a short montage of some of the animation from the film that the filmmakers used to shop around to investors for financing.
Behind the Scenes Featurette (HD, 39 Mins.) - This is a great and in depth look at the making of the film where the filmmakers talk about the story and characters of the film. There is even some good footage of real life segments that were filmed to give the animators some great material to draw from. The voice acting is also looked at here.
Interview with Director Rémi Chayé and Producer Henri Magalon (HD, 30 Mins.) - A long interview with the two filmmakers about how they went from project conception to execution, which is quite fascinating. Clips of the film are interspersed throughout the interview.
Still Galleries (HD, 7 Mins.) - Two separate still galleries are available. One is of all the characters, which the other is all of the concept art.
Animatics (HD, 4 Mins.) - A few minutes of some of the black and white animatics are shown here with the cast voice overs.
'Long Way North' won't wow anyone with bright, flashy animation or any big explosions or space aliens. This is a simple, yet adventurous story that tells an excellent tale about a young girl who sets out to find her grandfather, but ends up finding herself. There are no cliches or silliness here, and all of the characters have enough depth, that you can't help by connect with them after the short run time. The animation itself is beautiful in its own right, by being easy, simple and not overly done. The video and audio presentations are both great here, and the extras are all worth watching and informative. Highly recommended!