"Calamity: The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary" Review

Title: Calamity: The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary
Director: Rémi Chayé
Studio: France 3 Cinéma
Genre(s): Adventure
Rated: Not Rated

Several years ago me and a friend went to the Regal Cinemas at the University of Irvine to see an animated film called “Long Way North.”  We were both impressed with the animation as well as the storytelling, but my friend looked at me afterwards and said “I can’t wait to show my daughter movies like that.”  The statement seemed odd at the time (seeing that he didn’t HAVE any kids), but I believe I understand where he was coming from.  While there are many quality animated films that are made every year, in America its difficult to find movies that star predominately female leads that can connect with young girls without having to cater to boys.  If you don’t believe me, look at Disney’s tendency to make movies with male leads called “Wreck-it-Ralph” and “Bolt” but then make “girl movies” with generic adjectives like “Brave” and “Tangled” (because…you know, boys won’t watch them otherwise).
It was also refreshing to have a female-positive family film that didn’t achieve its goal by making the men a bunch of offish pigs.  But, again, he had no kids at the time.  Thankfully for him (and the rest of the world), director Rémi Chayé has given us a follow-up film called “Calamity: The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary,” a western in which the rules of society are challenged every day and colors run wild!  It follows a group of westerners who are attempting to reach Oregon by horse and carriage.  In this group is one family with a father and a few girls.  They don’t really belong in the same class of society with their fellow travelers, but they are none-the-less grateful to be along for the ride.  Trouble brews when the father is unable to travel in a capacity that requires anything other than resting, which means a boy must be “loaned” to the film so they can continue the journey.  The thing is…the father has kids.  One of those kids is a young girl named Martha.
Martha is being trained to be a ‘proper lady,’ but she has an adventurous spirit and is excited by life.  She wants to help her father and sisters, but the leader of the group has his rules, and the rules call for ladies to sit by and let the men do the grunt work.  When a twist of fate makes Martha a suspect in a crime, she is forced to flee the group to clear her name.  What this opens up is the sort of adventures young kids always dream of having: Running through the great outdoors, going on dangerous adventures around every corner, and even sparking up an unlikely friendship or two.  Martha is a great character who is a force of life wherever she goes, ready to adapt to any situation!  If she is accused of a crime, she will go and clear her name!  If she is taken down in a fight because her hair is a liability, she will simply cut it and return for a rematch!
She’s the kind of character that kids love to root for and parents love as role models for their children.  One of the unique aspects of the film is the animation, which is created without the use of black lines surrounding any of the characters or locations.  I have to admit that I’m not sure exactly HOW they manage to pull this effect off, but I do enjoy the look because it gives off the visual impression that the images have no limitations, and the world feels that] much bigger as a result!  This is also a movie that doesn’t talk down to kids.  While it is family friendly to be sure, it doesn’t sky away from the sexism of the time period or the real dangers the wild west presented.  There’s nothing here that will scar kids, but the film makers trust kids to know that safety is not a luxury to be had in this world.
Five years after “The Long Way North,” Rémi Chayé has solidified himself as one of the most exciting film makers working in the art of animation today!  “Calamity: The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” is an exciting film for the whole family that should not be missed!  It creates the kind of wonder and excitement that Disney usually brings to the table, but in the mature way you would normally expect from a Pixar film.  Those comparisons may not be fair though since Chayé has a voice that is unique to him and feels more akin to a storyteller of great adventures like Jules Vern once was!  At the time of this writing there appear to be no plans for the film to come to America, but it is certainly something I predict will be released here at some point.  When it does, “Calamity: The Childhood of Martha Jane Cannary” will be something to seek out and share with adventurer’s of all ages (preferably in the theaters, where I’m sure the visuals will shine all the better)!

Parents, although there is some sexist comments from the men, this is otherwise a pretty family friendly affair.  Recommended for ages 5 and up.