Movie Name: Anastasia
Studio: Fox Animation Studios
Release Date(s): November 14, 1997 (Premiere)/November 21, 1997 (US)
MPAA Rating: G
Tsar Nicholas II and his family are overthrown during the Russian Revolution in 1916, and Anastasia is lost in the chaos and escape. At sixteen, Anya is an orphan in Russia with no memory of her past but a memory that she is to go to Paris. When she meets Dimitri and Vlad who intends to pass off a girl off as Anastasia, Anya fits the bill. Travelling to Paris to meet the Dowager Empress Marie, Anya, Dimitri, and Vlad learn that Rasputin and his assistant Bartok will not let that happen.
Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, Anastasia is a family animated musical. The story is mostly a retelling of the live-action 1956 movie of the same title. The movie was relatively well received and highly profitable at the box office. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Song (“Journey to the Past”) and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score.
At the time Anastasia was made, Disney was at peaking at its resurgence. Challengers would be judged by Disney’s hits like Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, and Aladdin…and Anastasia actually proved to be a strong challenger to Disney’s reign.
The story is both Anastasia’s strength and weakness. I actually like the basic story of a girl who actually is Anastasia being groomed to be Anastasia without knowing that really is Anastasia. It leads to an interesting conclusion with her grandmother and it is fulfilling. That is smart and fun. What I don’t like about Anastasia is the whole Rasputin/Bartok storyline which dumbs down the story. It is a smart, enjoyable family romance without the necessary “kids movie” aspects.
The movie didn’t skimp on voice actors. Meg Ryan was wooed to the role as Anastasia and Kristen Dunst plays the younger version of her (Lacey Chabert provided her singing voice). John Cusack is Anastasia’s savior and romantic interest Dimitri, and Kelsey Grammer plays his mentor Vlad. The movie’s heavy is played by Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin and Hank Azaria providing the voice of his bat sidekick Bartok. Angela Lansbury is the voice of the Duchess (whose Russian accent comes & goes) and other voice actresses include Andrea Martin and Bernadette Peters.
The animation looks like classic Don Bluth designs (Pooka looks a lot like Gurgi from The Black Cauldron). The animation is slick and stylish and there are some rather intense moments in the movie surrounding Rasputin and his devilish visions. It could be rather intense for a kid, but no scarier than Disney’s “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Disney’s Fantasia.
Anastasia is better than you might expect it to be and it really does feel like it could be a Disney film. With some of Disney’s late ’90s/early ‘’00s films being pretty weak, Anastasia is actually an improvement. The movie spawned a stage musical in 2016 and straight to video spin-off sequel called Bartok the Magnificent.