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Family Movie Review: Long Way North (PG)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalhalf-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 81 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. The story is about a teenage girl traveling to the North Pole to find her missing grandfather; there are some emotionally heavy themes, including the grandfather’s absence and the girl’s friction with her parents; some rude jokes, including bathroom humor and some disparaging comments about girls; some flirtation between the teen girl protagonist and a teen boy, and a scene of CPR mouth-to-mouth; and some danger in the form of a hungry polar bear.

The gorgeously animated ‘Long Way North’ tells a simple story of a young woman’s coming of age during her search for her lost grandfather. The film’s attention to detail visually evens out some of its narrative clichés, making this a must-watch for families with imaginative girls.

By Roxana Hadadi

LongWayNorth ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewWith the weather beginning to change and winter knocking on our doors, “Long Way North” takes us into the snow and the ice, following a teenage girl’s journey as she tries to find her missing grandfather. Beautifully animated and briskly told with an 81-minute run time, “Long Way North” is a good choice for imaginative young girls who want to be inspired by a protagonist of their own kind onscreen.

The film focuses on the young Russian girl Sacha (voiced by Chloé Dunn), an aristocrat who lives with her family in a mansion in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1880, her grandfather Oloukine (voiced by Geoffrey Greenhill) left on a mission to the North Pole, where he dreamed of planting the Russian flag in the ice. On a ship created specifically for him by the Czar, the Davai, Oloukine was supposed to complete his goal and come back—especially because huge sums of money were spent on making the Davai unsinkable.

But two years have passed, Sacha is now 15, and Oloukine hasn’t yet come back. The impact on the family name is clear: Although her family is funding a library in Oloukine’s name at a prestigious university, there are whispers in the upper class about whether Oloukine made a mistake in his calculations, and the accepted theory is that he’s dead. Sacha’s father is worried about his political career; it’s implied that Sacha’s mother is thinking about marrying her into the royal family to secure their status.

The only person who still seems to care about Oloukine is Sacha, who worships the memory of her grandfather. So when she makes a scene at her first ball arguing with the Czar’s snooty nephew that Oloukine is still alive and that they should send a team to go look for him in another location than where he was assumed to be, her family is scandalized—and her father tells her as much, saying she’s humiliated them.

The next morning, frustrated and determined, Sacha runs away—hoping to find her grandfather and the Davai and restore her family’s honor. But the young aristocrat runs into a series of obstacles she must overcome: she’s swindled out of a family heirloom; there are no ship crews or captains willing to take her where she thinks Oloukine is; she’s never worked before, and she doesn’t know how to support herself.

But Sacha is nothing if not resourceful, and her goal of finding Oloukine will not be deterred—which draws the attention of Captain Lund (voiced by Peter Hudson), who eventually agrees to partner with her in her quest. On his ship and with his doubtful crew, Sacha embarks for the North Pole, where her dreams of finding the Davai will either be realized or crushed.

The characters’ motivations in “Long Way North” are fairly simplistic—we don’t get a sense of anything else Sacha is interested in than her adoration of her grandfather; her parents are totally surface-level; and each member of Captain Lund’s crew gets one trait and that’s it—but that helps keep the story streamlined, which will work for younger audiences. The themes here are fairly general (family loyalty is important; hard work is good; don’t give up), but they’ll be effective for starting conversations with family audiences. Was Sacha right in disobeying her parents? Is her desire for adventure more important than her responsibilities as a daughter? Questions like that can get parents and children talking.

But while watching “Long Way North,” it’s difficult to focus on anything but the gorgeous, watercolor-like animation. The majority of the film is in 2D, and the attention paid to the characters’ facial expressions, especially their eyes and mouths, gives audiences a direct view into their emotional journeys. When the crew gets to the North Pole, the wide views of the place show gorgeous scope: their ship making its way through sheets of ice, huge chunks of frozen snow collapsing into the sea, the swirling plumes of a blizzard. Everything is beautifully rendered, and a moment of reunion for Sacha is heartbreakingly sad but amazingly animated.

There are things that are off about “Long Way North”: the film is about Russia but some characters strangely have British accents or use British slang; the character development is a bit lacking; and some of the dialogue isn’t particularly nuanced (“I must find the Davai to save my family’s honor!” parrots Sacha). The lovely animation and the stirring messages for young girls, though, make “Long Way North” a worthy family-viewing pick.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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