Fans of Arctic adventure tales and animation should appreciate “Long Way North,” which features gorgeous, hand-painted vistas of calving glaciers and fog-shrouded ice floes. The debut feature of director Rémi Chayé, a French animator who cut his teeth on such films as “The Secret of Kells” and “The Painting,” “North” is the story of Sasha (voice of Chloé Dunn in this English-dubbed version), a plucky teenage girl in tsarist Russia who runs away from her home in St. Petersburg in search of her grandfather (Geoffrey Greenhill), an explorer whose ship has gone missing during an expedition to the North Pole.
There’s a certain outlandishness to the premise: Sasha is able to talk her way onto a Scandinavian ship seeking reward money that has been offered for the return of the missing vessel, using nothing more than a pair of earrings as payment and a piece of paper suggesting that her grandfather used an alternate route. But despite the imaginative nature of the plot, the dangers encountered by the girl and the ship’s crew are presented in a fairly realistic way — albeit one that utilizes a visual style reminiscent of vintage 19th-century travel posters.
Chayé’s animation removes the outlines of figures, retaining only the blocky color fills, in a manner that evokes silk-screen prints. It’s visually striking, even when presenting a storm at sea, a rampaging polar bear or a creepy abandoned lifeboat, crusted with year-old frost.
Loosely inspired by the ordeal of Ernest Shackleton, an explorer who became stranded during a voyage to Antarctica, “Long Way North” combines thrilling adventure with a slightly somber mood. It’s a beautiful trip, even if it’s a little chilly and sad when it finally gets to where it’s going.
PG. At AMC Potomac Mills 18 and the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market.
Contains disturbing thematic material, peril and mild rude humor. 81 minutes.