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Robin Menchen: The 2015 French-Danish animation, directed by Rémi Chayé, features a brave high-born Russian girl Sasha who flaunts society's expectations for a girl of nobility, or for any girl in fact, setting off to find her grandfather and his ship lost at the North Pole.

[dc]"L[/dc]ong Way North" ("Tout en haut du monde") premiered at the 2015 Annecy International Animated Film Festival, where it captured the Audience Award. It won both the Governer Of Tokyo and Grand prize at the Tokyo Animation Festival, 2016, followed by the young public award at Brussel’s Anima festival in February and Chayé picked up director of the year honors from the influential Cartoon Movie pitching and co-production forum.

long way north

With it's minimal color-block soft shapes, exquisite landscapes, and simple, storybook style the film is unlike any other flat animation feature. It is also the most sophisticated use of Flash animation in a feature.

The 2015 French-Danish animation, directed by Rémi Chayé, features a brave high-born Russian girl Sasha who flaunts society's expectations for a girl of nobility, or for any girl in fact, setting off to find her grandfather and his ship lost at the North Pole.

The 2015 French-Danish animation, directed by Rémi Chayé, features a brave high-born Russian girl Sasha (voiced by Chloé Dunn in the English dubbed version) who flaunts society's expectations for a girl of nobility, or for any girl in fact, setting off to find her grandfather and his ship lost at the North Pole.

Studious Sasha is her parent's bane, intent in following in her grandfather's footsteps and see the world, she hides out in his library, instead of primping for her upcoming debut at Court.

As lovely as the early scenes in St. Petersburg are (with the lush ballroom sequence) the film really comes into its own as an Arctic survival quest.

Sasha is her grandfather's favorite, proud of the adventurous explorer Oloukine (Geoffrey Greenhill) who discovered the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Standing in the dock, the wind whipping her hair, almond-eyed Sasha watches his expedition set off to claim the North Pole for the Tsar.

When the Davai is presumed lost at sea, the Tsar blames her family, angered at the loss of his valuable ship. The family's reputation is ruined.

The Tsar offers a million rubles to whoever recovers the Davai but eventually the search parties are called off.

Sasha knows better, armed with Oloukine's original maps, she realizes that they've been searching in the wrong sea. His maps prove he was attempting a new, more direct route, and she suspects he's alive marooned in iced over seas.

She's determined to find her grandfather. She abandons the Prince Charming she's supposed to marry, sneaks away in dead of night, steals a horse, hops a train and finds a ship.

Desperate to set sail, Sasha barters her valuable earrings, a present from Oloukine, for passage. But the wastral "first mate" Larson (Peter Hudson) swindles her.

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The Norge sails without her. Abandoned Sasha gets a job from gruff, practical innkeeper Olga (Vivienne Vermes) who teaches Sasha how to work. By the time the Norge returns Sasha, with Olga's encouragement, confronts Larson, and wins the respect of Larson's older brother Captain Lund (Peter Hudson), and ships' dogsbody Katch (Anthony Hickling).

Better able to read maps, and armed with her Grandfather's surprising maps, she guides the expedition through frozen seas and frozen wastes to find Oloukine, and the ice-locked Davai.

The film is on point with it's studious, feisty self-willed heroine, Like Mulan and Merida in 'Brave", Sasha is unafraid. Making her getaway, kicking over the traces of an arranged society marriage, she wends her way North, dogging her Grandfather's route. Willing to do whatever it takes, she happily mixes with the peasants adopting their lessons and skills, as she works her way towards the North Pole and maturity.

Chayé worked as Tomm Moore's Assistant Director and storyboarder on "The Secret of Kells", as well as Assistant Director, Art Graphic designer and 2nd Layout Artist on Jean-François Laguionie's "The Painting". another flat animation known for its exceptional color palette and unusual graphic style.

Chayé, a realist painter, was looking for a way to simplify his images. He removed the standard black outlines and discovered that light penetrated the characters. To achieve the almost abstract color fill style, the Cell artists removed the animators lines and kept the fill.

Chayé credits animator Mailys Vallade with developing an efficient style of animation, which delivered maximum character emotion using the fewest drawings.

Animation Director Patrice Suau brought a special color sense, and redefined the graphic style based on color saturated US Travel Posters of the 1940's.

(Those posters with their flat color blocks owe something to travel posters of 1920's and 30's, think Canadian artist Austin Cooper, French artist Roger Broders, themselves influenced by Lautrec's posters and the Edo era Japanese Woodblock artists. )

Rémi Chayé looked to 19th century Russian Realist painters, most notably Ilya Repin. Eschewed his highly detailed portraits, he adopted Repins' dramatic compositions and lighting. Painting buffs may recognize Barge Haulers on the Volga.

The frozen landscapes are gripping, and Chayé's way with dawn and dusk tones give the film the gravitas of masterful 19th century landscape painting.

His sense of composition, scale and pallette, makes the film a series of stunning framable images.

Chayé and screenwriter Claire Paoletti based the story of the Davai on the Good Ship Endurance, trapped in an ice pack during one of Ernest Shackleton’s famed expeditions.

The Norge, the ship Sasha sail on, was designed in 3D by animator and sailing buff Sebastien Godard. Don’t miss this on a big screen.

Robin Menken