We’ve grown so accustomed to the American brand of animated feature that we’ve forgotten how many other ways there are to tell a story through animation. Director Rémi Chayé opens in 1882 St. Petersburg, where young Sacha (Christa Théret), daughter of Russian aristocrats, becomes determined to find her grandfather, who never returned after leaving on an expedition to reach the North Pole. The tale plays out as a female coming-of-age adventure that would please Miyazaki, as Sacha toughens up towards her eventual journey with a ship’s crew to search for her grandfather. And it turns into a surprisingly intense survival yarn as Sacha and the crew face natural perils, rarely falling back on comic relief while exploring a visual style that combines the angular character designs Tomm Moore (Chayé worked on The Secret of Kells
) with a touch of Felicioli/Gagnol (A Cat in Paris
). From a slick montage of Sacha working at a seaside inn to haunting images of Arctic fog, it’s an example of hand-drawn storytelling that doesn’t fall back on a visual language we’ve seen 100 times before.