Anastasia - Disney Without the Disney
While Walt Disney Pictures flourished during the 1990s, some film studios experienced more difficulty when it came to producing animated blockbusters. Veteran Disney animator Don Bluth tried several times to make an animated film that rivalled the works of Disney (An American Tail, The Land Before Time), but to little avail. This changed, however, when Bluth teamed up with co-director Gary Goldman and joined Fox Animation Studios to create Anastasia.
Upon its release in the winter of 1997, Anastasia was a relatively large success for a non-Disney animated film, earning almost $140 million at the box office and a very positive reception from critics (the film currently holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes). Starring Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, and Angela Lansbury, Anastasia, though not as successful as most Disney animated films, remains Don Bluth's biggest film to-date.
Anastasia is loosely based upon the mass assassination of the Romanovs, the Imperial Family of Russia, and the urban legend that Anastasia, their youngest daughter, survived. A rather unconventional choice for an animated musical film, several artistic liberties were taken with the story to make it more family-oriented.
The story follows the adventures of Anya (Ryan), an eighteen-year-old amnesia-stricken orphan, who's searching for a family and a place to call home. When she learns from a pair of con-men named Dimitri (Cusack) and Vladimir (Grammer) that she may be Anastasia, the surviving daughter of the Romanov family, Anya, hoping this will lead her to her family, teams up with them in search of the Dowager Empress Marie (Lansbury), Anastasia's grandmother. Little does Anya know that Grigori Rasputin (Lloyd), the man responsible for the death of the Royal Family, knows that Anya is the real Anastasia, and seeks her death.
Like many of us, I was surprised to find out that Anastasia wasn't a Disney film. I was even more surprised when I found out that Anastasia was directed by Don Bluth, creator of box office bombs, such as A Troll in Central Park and Thumbelina. In my opinion, having your low-budget animated film constantly mistaken for a Disney film is one of the best compliments you can get. Anastasia was just so beautifully animated, written, and musically structured that I literally have to remind myself that I'm not watching an expensive Disney venture.
Story - 8.5/10 - Hard to believe that an animated film based on one of the greatest tragedies in history could be so emotionally compelling and entertaining.
Characters - 9.5/10 - Almost perfect. Very strong and meaningful characters; not a lot of extras. I just wish we could have seen a bit more of Empress Marie, and her cousin Sophie.
Acting - 10/10 - Perfect! One of the finest assembled in an animated film. The constant banter between Meg Ryan (Anastasia/Anya) and John Cuscak (Dimtri) is hilarious, and Christopher Lloyd as the film's villain, Rasputin, was an excellent choice. Bernadette Peters and Hank Azaria as Sophie and Bartok are also very loveable.
Music - 9/10 - Very catchy songs with meaningful lyrics that help tell the story. A little too show-tooney at times ("In the Dark of the Night", "Rumor in St. Petersburg"), but excellent singing. I adore "Journey to the Past"; Liz Callaway's voice is beautiful.
Score - 92% - Very good! A classic animated film that anyone could enjoy (except Russian historians who loathed the films historical inaccuracy).
In conclusion, Anastasia was one of my favourite animated films growing up. I also thought Anya was one of the most gorgeous animated girls I've ever seen. The lesson here is that you shouldn't misjudge an animated film just because it's not Disney. I love Anastasia, and I have for many years. I probably would have loved it less if it was a Disney film because my expectations would have been higher, but for a non-Disne film, this is pure GOLD!!!