I just discovered a new Disney Animated film! Actually I am well aware that Anastasia was produced by 20th Century Fox, but I am also sure that some reading this are scratching their heads and wondering if I just might be wrong. This film was released in 1997 a few months after Disney's Hercules, and collected a respectable $58 million domestically (by comparison Hercules took $99 million). Anastasia was directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (not Coleman) who brought us The Land Before Time, The American Tail, and later Titan A.E. This film seems to have borrowed most heavily from the Disney cookbook as most of the Disney ingredients are here. Princess? Check. Evil supernatural villain? Check? Talking animal sidekick? Check. Musical performances? Check. But unlike most Disney films, this is set in the real world. 1920's Russia to be exact. I am not too clear on my 20th century Russian history, but I think there were some Bolsheviks, and a revolution, or something like that. While the ingredients are here, this film should not be dismissed as a Disney knock off. Its really a bit darker, and more real world based and brings its own flavor to the party. Having just seen it for the first time, it was not the girly saccharine fairy tale I was expecting.
Anastasia (the princess) is the daughter of the Romanovs, who were ousted from power. Being young during the revolution, and not knowing her true identity, she becomes part of a con to reunite with her Grandmother "posing" as the real Anastasia. Voiced by Kirsten Dunst (young) and Meg Ryan (older) Anastasia is a likeable character who makes this story worth telling. And like any good princess, she gets her fair share of glamorous gowns to model (dolls for sale?).
I am not sure how historically accurate this film is, but I am pretty sure that Rasputin the Mad Monk (the films villain) was not a zombie (but to be fair, I think I remember from History class that he was one tough dude to kill and on further investigation according to the wikipedia he survived cyanide poisoning, being shot three times, and being beaten only to finally drown while trying to claw his way out from under a sheet of ice). He is a great villain, fun to watch and just menacing enough to be a threat, though he doesn't monopolize the story-- which is a good thing. He drives the tension in a train wreck sequence and in a big fight at the end, but doesn't interfere from the truly dramatic moments such as the reunion between Anastasia and her grandmother.
In the film, Rasputin has an albino bat (talking sidekick) named Bartok, voiced by Moe the bartender, who was popular enough to have his own sequel, but I was underwhelmied by his performance. I am not even sure he was supposed to be comic relief. He just never approached funny. Besides, I am not sure what business a talking bat had in this film's realistic setting other than to meet the Disney film checklist.
Several good musical numbers performed by the characters are peppered through the film. They are not so much catchy as they are appropriate and mood developing, my favorite being the haunting Once upon a December. This songs tune is integral to the score, and comes from a music box which is a key plot element. So, while Anastasia may be Disneyesque in its use of music, the choices for songs are different and more suited to the film's darker edge than would be songs along the lines of Be Our Guest (and while Angela Lansbury voices a part in this film she doesn't sing but Frasier Crane's character does).
One note on the animation style-- It makes use of rotoscoping, a technique in which actors are filmed and animated over, to give the animation more realistic movements (this same tool was used much more noticeably in A-Ha's Take on me video). It's sort of a pre-motion capture technique, and also adds to the realistic feel of the film.
Rotten Tomatoes gives this film a generous 93%. I would have to say that while I enjoyed it, Anastasia was not awe inspiring or anything like that. As a romantic drama I think it is more suited for women than men, but I feel no shame in giving Anastasia a B.
Check out my past reviews:
The Black Cauldron
Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Grave of the Fireflies
The Iron Giant
Kaena: The Prophecy