When I became a Disney fan I unfortunately fell out of touch with the works of Don Bluth. I remember loving the Land Before Time (the original, not the crappy sequels), An American Tale, Secret of Nimh etc. So I have slowly, but surely started to rediscover the good Don Bluth movies. There was one Don Bluth film that I enjoyed when it first came out and continued to enjoy on VHS and then to DVD. Itâ€™s the only Don Bluth movie I have and itâ€™s called Anastasia! I know a lot of people donâ€™t like this film and thatâ€™s fine, but there are amazing things about this movie far more than there are bad. The main complaint is that itâ€™s historically inaccurate. Well yes, but as far as the concept goes itâ€™s actually based on a play and an Ingred Bergman film called Anastasia with the same setup minus the fairytale magic. So really if one has a problem with the concept take it up with the original author. Also the film was made in a time where there was a tiny slimmer of doubt that she died and urban legends that she lived and it was before DNA testing confirmed Anastasia died in the fallout of the Bolshevik Revolution so again it could happen (minus the magic). So why does this film get so much crap while the Ingred Bergman movie gets the basic â€œOh leave it alone. Itâ€™s just the Hollywood interpretation.â€? Well I think itâ€™s because of the idea that someone wants to take a sad and tragic historical event and make a whimsical Disneyesque animated musical out of it and mislead the children of the world. Excuse me. This may have a historical backdrop, but the history stuff is immediately followed by an undead Rasputin falling apart every 2 minutes. Who is the studio misleading? I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s more offensive the changes to history, or that these critics, historians, and cynics actually thinking that the children of the world are that stupid that theyâ€™ll believe that every second of this film is fact.Â Â Anyway, I really like the film. Hereâ€™s why. This is Anastasia!!
The story of Anastasia begins when Anastasia is a young girl around 10 and she is at a party with the rest of the royal family and her Grandmother gives her a gift. The gift is a music box and a necklace to open it. The necklace says â€œTogether in Parisâ€ and the music box plays the lullaby her Grandmother would sing to her. Then Rasputin enters and threatens the Romanov family and prophesizes that theyâ€™ll die very soon. Rasputin sells his soul to the Devil and uses his power to incite the Bolshevik Revolution. Okay this is where I have a problem with the historical changes. This is disrespectful to the people that participated in the Revolution and the people that lost their lives on both sides. Whether you are a communist or an anti communist, whether you believe the long term effects of the Revolution were good or bad the fact is that the Bolshevik Revolution was fueled by genuine grievances of the working class. The country was in major debt and the population was severely decreased because of WW1, the corrupt elitist aristocracy was getting even worse, and the Czar Nicholas was completely incompetent (Rasputin corrupting the Czarina didnâ€™t help either). If thatâ€™s not a reason to rebel I donâ€™t know what is. To demean the genuine grievances of the working class and the atrocities committed by the rebels and the aristocracy to a simple â€œThis was brought to you by Satanâ€ is in extremely bad taste! Not only that but it portrays the rebels in a very Cold War anti communist bigotry by having the Devil sponsor the Revolution. I believe there were other ways of incorporating Rasputinâ€™s evil plan without messing with the ideas and the complex issues behind the Revolution. Rasputin could have just let the Revolution come to pass normally without interfering and used it as an opportunity to kill the precious Anastasia himself then he falls into the ice like in this film. Simple right! Anyway Anastasia gets lost in the chaos and has a head injury that muffles her memory and sheâ€™s raised in an orphanage. 10 years later there is a rumor that Anastasia is still alive and Anastasiaâ€™s Grandmother is holding audiences with women to see if Anastasia is alive. Two conmen named Dmitri and Vladimir are hosting auditions to pick a girl to be Anastasia and teach her all the knowledge and tricks to being royalty and once the Grandma is fooled they collect the money and split. Meanwhile at an orphanage a grown up Anastasia decides to head to St. Petersburg to get on a train to Paris (because she still has the necklace as her only clue to her past) she comes across Dmitri and Vladimir and since sheâ€™s a perfect resemblance to Anastasia they choose her (not knowing that it really is her) and since they are her only ticket to Paris she agrees to go with them. The undead Rasputin finds out Anastasia is alive and spends the rest of the movie trying to kill her. The film becomes a road trip movie and they get to Paris where Dmitri finds out that sheâ€™s the real deal and has fallen in love with her throughout the journey. After Anastasia finds out about the con she gives up on the charade, but Dmitri convinces the Grandmother to at least look into this particular case.Â Â Anastasia is reunited with her Grandmother, but after she learns that Dmitri didnâ€™t take the money she wants to apologize, but gets led astray and comes face to face with Rasputin. Dmitri arrives to help Anastasia and after an impressive climax Anastasia kills Rasputin for good and Anastasia and Dmitri elope and live happily ever after. I think this is a very solid story (minus the whole Devil inspired historical event set up) it has really good scenes that are adventurous like the train scene and suspenseful ones like the boat and the climax. Anastasiaâ€™s journey to find identity and belonging is quite interesting despite the fact that we as the audience already know who she is. It has a fair amount of humor and is quite imaginative when it needs to be.
The characters are very likable and all well acted with an impressive celebrity voice cast. Iâ€™m only going to talk about pretty much the really important characters. I will say that Angela Lansburyâ€™s Dowager Empress is classy and is one of the only characters to have a Russian accent.
VLADIMIR: voiced by Kelsey Grammar
Vladimir is your typical sidekick, but heâ€™s a sidekick to the male lead not the leading lady. Heâ€™s the one that treats Anastasia nicely and is the big guy with a big heart. He has a lot of screentime, but apart from giving Anastasia a warmer welcome to the team and training her he really doesnâ€™t do anything else and pretty much disappears by the time the climax rolls around.
BARTOK: voiced by Hank Azaria
This is basically the Iago of the movie. Hank Azaria gives an Annie Award winning performance as Rasputinâ€™s sidekick, a little white bat named Bartok. Azaria is charming in a lot of ways and can occasionally be funny, but what really makes this character work instead of waste of space is how heâ€™s used in the film. He is more of an observer than a participant so you could say that we see the villainâ€™s activities through him which is very clever and creative with this characterâ€™s archetype. Another aspect that is excellent is that Bartokâ€™s loyal, but clearly doesnâ€™t want Rasputin to waste his afterlife on his vengeance. He constantly encourages Rasputin to realize that heâ€™s basically immortal, why doesnâ€™t he go out and enjoy the gift that his bargain with Devil strangely enough has given him (youâ€™d think such a bargain would have terrible consequences if you donâ€™t succeed in the intended goal of the power). Itâ€™s the weird combination of affection, loyalty, yet insubordinationÂ Â and attempts at redeeming his master that make this character really special despite the fact that heâ€™s not in the film very often.
RASPUTIN: voiced by Christopher Lloyd and sung by Jim Cummings
This is a very good villain. His goal is very simple: kill the Romanovâ€™s. Thatâ€™s it. We donâ€™t get any real details on why he hates the Romanovâ€™s just vague sentences in the narration, but the character is so passionate and so driven and so well acted that you probably wonâ€™t care. Heâ€™s a villain doing what a villain does. He has a very stylized lair as well as a very powerful reliquary that has the power to summon multiple demon monsters that look like the spawns of Chernabog and he can even go Freddie Krueger on you and invade your dreams. He also has the power to animate objects and do all manner of destruction and manipulation. If thereâ€™s one real problem with the way the characterâ€™s written itâ€™s that his silly and sinister behaviors are very uneven. More comical villains like Captain Hook or Hades may be amusing and funny, but there was always an element of evil and ruthlessness in the performance. For example Captain Hook is a nasty and sinister villain and only acts silly when his comic foil Smee does something or when heâ€™s frightened by the crocodileâ€™s presence. Thereâ€™s a character based reason why heâ€™s acting silly and once that stimulus is gone he is back to his sinister self. With Hades even though he talks in an amusing manner he still has a sinister edge to him throughout his snappy dialogue. Behind the snappy dialogue we know heâ€™s planning to do cruel and barbaric things.Â Â With Rasputin the unevenness comes from the lack of transition into these particular moods and the fact that once heâ€™s in a particular mood, especially his goofy mood there is no subtle remnants that heâ€™s still a vengeful and dark plotter and servant of Satan. One scene heâ€™s a dark plotter and in another scene he starts throwing a tantrum because his plan to kill Anastasia failed. Itâ€™s quite distracting to an otherwise really good character. Christopher Lloyd is absolutely brilliant! Heâ€™s over the top and he has this dark edge to his voice to make him quite intimidating. But the best part about this character and Christopher Lloydâ€™s performance is when Rasputin technically dies in the beginning of the movie by falling through the ice on a frozen river. I canâ€™t resist this HE WAS FROZEN THAT DAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! How awesome and how coincidental is that?!!!!!!!!
DMITRI: voiced by John Cusack and sung by Jonathan Dokuchitz
You can add Dmitri to the list of interesting and well developed animated leading men of late. Heâ€™s a genuinely interesting character. I want to know how he survived the Revolution because one would think that he would have been executed by the rebels because he helped the Dowager Empress and Anastasia escape. When Iâ€™m genuinely curious about a characterâ€™s past (when the past doesnâ€™t serve as a plot hole, that is) that is a good character. Heâ€™s charming, suave and nice enough, but he is a little cocky and sleazy, but heâ€™s a conman would you expect anything less. John Cusack delivers a great performance in giving that character the charm as well as the con artist sleaze and arrogance. He can also play the emotional aspects of the character very well in the 3rdÂ act of the film. I love the scene where he finds out that sheâ€™s really Anastasia and the way Cusack portrays the character after this realization is excellent. Dmitri is put in a very difficult and interesting situation. Now that he has really found the real deal he canâ€™t take the reward money out of guilt for taking advantage of Anastasiaâ€™s pain and loss and also out of basic human moral principle. Heâ€™s also coming to terms with the fact that heâ€™s fallen in love with her, but canâ€™t be with her because if she did she would have to denounce her family which is the very thing sheâ€™s dreamed of finding and he canâ€™t do that to her. Itâ€™s a very well done dilemma and he learns that he at least should tell her how he really feels and goes to find her and ends up coming to help her against Rasputin.
ANASTASIA: voiced by Meg Ryan and sung by Liz Calloway
She is a great character. Sheâ€™s interesting, spunky, pretty (animation wise and voice actor wise), humble, resourceful, and is driven to find her past. I like this objective and motivation because we have a character that has no past and no jumping on point as to a true identity. So in order to find a sense of belonging and a foundation to the very meaning of her existence she embarks on a â€œJourney to the Pastâ€ so to speak. Itâ€™s in the same vein as Ariel respecting the undersea realm, but feeling as though she doesnâ€™t belong there and that there is something out there bigger and better and she believes the answers are on land and yearns to go there to find the answers she seeks. Meg Ryan plays the character very well giving personality and life to the character as well as truly embodying the characterâ€™s yearning for identity and answers. I love it when the characterâ€™s piecing her memory together throughout the film. There are scenes where she starts to remember little bits and pieces, but simply thinks itâ€™s part of the tutorials to be like â€œAnastasiaâ€. My favorite example is on the boat where she inspects the music box and feels like sheâ€™s seen it before, but canâ€™t place it at all and itâ€™s a 360Ëš camera pan and the spirits of her family are floating around her head and Ryanâ€™s performance is great and really conveys the vague familiarity. This scene is so awesome I took inspiration from it in my Little Mermaid 2 fanfiction for those of you that remember that. I applied it in the concept of Melody constantly having dreams and visions of her memories after Morgana used mystical electro shock therapy to wipe her memory and Melody had emotions and visions she couldnâ€™t explain and sought answers which led to her reunion with Ariel. Anyway, this character is so great she actually tackles Rasputin in the climax. What a character!
Arguably the best aspect of this film is the music and itâ€™s difficult to disagree. The songs were written by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens with the score composed by David Newman. The score is quite good and it was even nominated for an OSCAR. The songs move the story forward (usually) and are well written. They may not be as memorable as their Disney rivals, but they are still very good.
This is a solid opening number (after a fairly lengthy prologue). I swear that shot where the title comes up is a ripoff of Hunchback of Notre Dameâ€™s opening especially with the zoom in on the city. We get all of our updates about whatâ€™s happened culturally and in terms of the plot weâ€™re following. We hear about the audiences with the Dowager Empress and the plan for Dmitri and Vladimir to scam the Empress. Itâ€™s not the catchiest song in the world, but itâ€™s got a good tune.
This isnâ€™t your typical â€œI wantâ€ song because itâ€™s more about finding the courage to take that first step toward your dream. Anastasia may not know where the road goes, but she feels that itâ€™s worth it even if itâ€™s the wrong road. The song was the OSCAR nominated song from the film. Itâ€™s very well written and Liz Calloway really captures the character and the music is very uplifting and it gets you excited for the adventure to come.
My favorite and the hands down best song in the film. Beautifully written, wonderfully animated and performed. It has Anastasia in the ruins of the old palace and the images bring back vague images of her memory and she remembers the lullaby and begins to envision herself if she was the princess Anastasia. The part where the portraits come to life and she starts dancing with the ghost is really cool and highly imaginative. Liz Calloway puts a lot of emotion into this song she doesnâ€™t just perform it the song is now an expression of the character and is extremely effective. It reminds me of Part of Your World where the animation, facial expressions, gestures and body language go so beautifully with the song that it creates the absolute perfect scene in the film.
The villain song! It made the Nostalgia Criticâ€™s list of the Best Villain Songs so it must be good. As a matter of fact it is! Jim Cummings fills in for Lloyd and sings about his vengeance now that his powers are restored. Even though that some of the lyrics are a little weird, but the performance and the music is just really good! Would I have preferred skeletons instead of bugs? Well yeah, but we do get an army of demons at the end so I guess it all works out. By the way did anybody else think that Rasputinâ€™s little orb that he uses to spy on people remind you of the bubble that Ursula used to spy on Ariel?
This is the training montage song of the film. Dmitri and Vladimir sing to Anastasia about various things Anastasia did so the con can be successful. I like that thereâ€™s one part where Anastasia genuinely remembers something and Vladimir and Dmitri look at each other and are impressed because they didnâ€™t teach her that at all. Itâ€™s a fun little song, but unfortunately after â€œIn the Dark of the Nightâ€ the songs just take a nosedive in terms of importance and quality. This is an okay song, but nowhere near the quality of the previous songs.
Screw You Movie!!!!!!!! This song SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!! It has no relevance to the story. Itâ€™s there for no reason. Itâ€™s a song about how Paris is cool and an excuse to see our characters â€œhaving fun in Parisâ€ I donâ€™t care!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I want Anastasia reunited with her grandma!!!!!!!!!! The only good parts about this song are when Dmitri is singing about how he feels about her because he knows who she really is. But thatâ€™s only for about 10 seconds and then we get back to the crap!!!!!!!!!! The movie just goes to halt when this song comes on. You want it to end as quickly as possible so the movie that you paid money to see will carry on to the conclusion that you as a viewer deserve. Itâ€™s not even a well written song. Itâ€™s bullcrap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
As with all movies that came out in the late 80s and all through the 1990s there always had to be a pop like song during the credits (that interestingly ends around the time Phil Collins did the songs for Tarzan. Itâ€™s official Phil Collins killed this great staple of 80s/90s movies). Itâ€™s a decent song that captures the movie well.
This is the other end of the argument of what is the best aspect of the film. The animation is amazing!!!!!!!! The environments are extremely detailed and the characters are all very fluid and expressive in their movements and facial expressions. This is incredible. The CG stuff is a little distracting, but everything else is awesome!!!!!!!!!
If you pointed a gun at my head and forced to me to see only one of the big animated features that came out in 1997 Hercules or Anastasia I would choose Anastasia in a heartbeat. As much as I like Hercules Anastasia just has the better story, characters, art direction, animation and music. It is beter in every way, but is very overlooked despite being Don Bluthâ€™s most successful and highest grossing film. I hope you give this film a chance if you havenâ€™t already because itâ€™s definitely worth your time!!
VERDICT: 4.1 magical reliquaries out of 5