Long Way North takes us to late-19th-century St. Petersburg; a time where the penultimate Emperor, Tsar Alexander III, ruled. The Russian Empire was weakening, and life had become less comfortable for the aristocracy. But, we then meet Sasha, a ray of sunshine breaking through the mist. The privileged daughter of an aristocratic family, she is bright and lively, but her fortunes rely on the favour of others. Sasha’s grandfather had recently been lost on an expedition to the North Pole. His trip had been a disaster, the ship and its crew were lost at sea. But whilst the rest of the nation had given up on finding the Davai, and her grandfather, Sasha never had.
Sasha is a teen full of the wonder and optimism all young people should exude. She has an unwavering desire for knowledge and is determined to learn her grandfather’s true fate. She is full of youthful arrogance and whimsy, but is equally naive to the realities of her situation. She learns the value of hard work and perseverance as well as the feeling of independence. She grows and toughens, being told “you’ll have to work… judging by your hands it’ll be a first”, but fights to succeed at every turn. She dispels sexist remarks and proves that she is anything but fragile. Sasha is the sort of heroine all heroines should aspire to be. She doesn’t need a hand up or a supporting shoulder. Not only can she stand on her own, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Sasha is a wonderfully-human lead, who ties you into the story’s soul, but past her, Long Way North keeps within comfortable bounds. Its journey is sweet and sentimental, tugging at the heartstrings, but it occasionally finds they’ve been tugged before. It favours simplicity in its arc and dialogue, but I can’t help but feel something is lost in translation. It is delicately poised for its young audience, but may lack some of the action or humour Pixar and co. have saturated older minds in.
Long Way North is dreamily romantic, embracing the spirit of adventure. It deals with loss in a illusory state, handling the sadness with a gentle touch, perfect for young audiences. The French-Danish production flits between optimism and tragedy, not unlike Persepolis, as Sasha follows the path most right for her. It is compact and tidy with animation that is, at times, distractingly beautiful. This is a perfect journey to take young viewers on, but older viewers may start thinking of the Long Way Home before the credits roll.
Long Way North sails into UK cinemas on June 17.