Ken Eisner / The Georgia Straight
I can’t remember the last time I said “Wow!” out loud so many times during a movie—especially not a cartoon aimed mostly at kids.
Actually, it takes some time to adjust to the seemingly unostentatious 2-D drawing style that flattens out character features in favour of wide compositions. But what compositions, and what a palette! The directing debut for France’s Rémi Chayé, who helped animate The Secret of Kells, offsets large fields of dusty rose and daphne blue with small slashes of brighter hues to convey constantly shifting light sources. Most illuminate a 15-year-old Russian girl called Sasha (Chloe Dunn, in the English-language version), who bravely makes her way from high society in 1880s St. Petersburg to the Arctic Circle, where her famous-explorer grandfather went missing with his supposedly unsinkable ship.
This unbelievably resourceful kid has pored over Grandpa’s papers and thinks she knows where he could still be found, almost two years later. But when she gets zero support from her own family and others in their czarist circle, she heads out on her own, through Scandinavia (the film is a French-Danish coproduction), landing a job at a hardscrabble pub while waiting for a ship to take her the long way north. (The original title isTout en Haut du Monde.)
The beautifully paced, 80-minute film is heavier on you-go-girl empowerment than it is on narrative subtlety. But once Sasha hooks up with a crew of ornery seamen—including a cabin boy (Tom Perkins) about her age—the story takes off into Jack London realms that have rarely been depicted with such stirring grandeur. With scenes of Arctic blizzard and glacial collapse this exciting, especially when accompanied by an unexpected electronica score, don’t be surprised when you get shushed by your own children.