Long Way North
⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: PG for some peril and mild language. In subtitled French.
Theater: St. Anthony Main
Modest but lovely in both its handcrafted graphics and its retro-adventure storytelling, this children’s animated cartoon charms without impressing a great deal. Sasha, a tweenage Tsarist Russian noble, travels from St. Petersburg west across the nation and sails to the North Pole in pursuit of her beloved grandfather, Oloukine, who vanished on an exploratory expedition.
The colors have a pale, wintertime palette, and the characters wear the 19th-century styles of aristocratic gentry and shipboard uniforms, all rendered in subtle crayon pastels. The minimalist look parallels the story’s low-key drama as Sasha learns to take charge of her own life and pursue her goals independently. Young viewers looking for a change of pace from the hectic current crop of American studio animation may like the chance to catch their breath and watch a good, small story unfold at less than supersonic speed. Their guardians may appreciate the story’s mature, somewhat melancholy narrative focus and tone. Good for them; that’s pretty much all this film has to offer.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: PG; mild action.
Like the hit single on its soundtrack — Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — this family flick is irresistibly charming because of a simple but catchy hook. This colorful animated confection introduces viewers to the happiest creatures living in the happiest tree growing in the happiest forest there is: a community of sparkly Trolls bursting with inner jubilance. Their neighbors are miserable ogre-like creatures called Bergens who have been plunged into decades of abject misery.
One day, the daughter of the Troll king, Princess Poppy (Anna Kendrick), hosts an elaborate party. But Poppy’s fireworks show inadvertently alerts the Bergens (led by Christine Baranski) to the Trolls’ hiding spot. After a handful of Trolls are kidnapped, Poppy attempts a rescue mission with a Troll named Branch (Timberlake), a gray survivalist who shares neither the rainbow hue nor the persistent happiness of the other Trolls.
Kendrick and Timberlake are wonderfully cast. When the opposites-attract duo sneaks into Bergen territory to free their fellows, Poppy’s infectious joy convinces one Bergen (Zooey Deschanel) that she can simply choose to be happy. The make-your-own-happiness theme is driven home with evocative musical numbers, including Timberlake’s dance anthem and Kendrick’s empowering “Get Back Up Again.” No matter what you think about the story, you’ll keep humming the soundtrack long after the credits roll.
Sandie Angulo Chen, Washington Post