Royally Mysterious: ‘Anastasia’ Retrospective
Original Film Poster
The Best of Fox Animation Studios
Thought I’d take a moment to look back at my favorite Christmas movie. While not actually a Christmas movie, it did come out around Christmas time in 1997. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, the film is the animated musical adventure fantasy Anastasia.
The plot follows a very fictionalized version of the real life Grand Duchess Anastasia Romanov. The former royal advisor to the Romanovs, Grigori Rasputin, wants revenge for being fired so he sells his soul for the power to destroy them. He places a curse on the family, which causes the Russian Revolution that ends their reign. As Anastasia and her grandmother, Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, are escaping, Anastasia becomes separated and bumps her head while her grandmother watches helplessly.
A decade later, rumors circle around Russia that the grand duchess may still be alive. The Dowager Empress has a reward for anyone who can reunite her with her granddaughter. Conman Dimitri and his friend Vladimir attempt to capitalize on this by finding a girl that they can play off as Anastasia. They meet amnesiac orphan Anya who’s attempting to regain her memories. Dimitri and Vladimir convince Anya that she’s probably Anastasia and the trio, along with Anya’s dog Pooka, embark on a journey to Paris to meet the Dowager Empress.
Rasputin, who died during the revolution, has revived and hears rumors that Anastasia is still alive. Believing that Anya is Anastasia, he uses his supernatural abilities to go after her to finally finish off the Romanovs.
The film has a cast that has good chemistry. Meg Ryan plays Anya, who has no idea who she is or where she came from. A bit of a spoiler, while the film wants you to think that Anya is a completely new character after the intro, near the end it’s revealed that she is indeed Anastasia. She has quite a hard journey on her way from the orphanage to reuniting with her grandmother. She’s pretty sarcastic, especially towards Dimitri, however they both have good interactions with one another. Anya is strong and independent. Her drive and determination rivals that of even the fiercest Disney princesses.
John Cusack plays Dimitri. As a child he worked in the Catherine Palace. In the prologue he actually helps Anastasia and the Dowager Empress escape the Russian Revolution. Older Dimitri is a con-artist who’s looking for someone to pretend to be Anastasia. He starts off selfish but eventually gains a conscious once he realizes that Anya is actually Anastasia. He then cares less for the reward and focuses more on reuniting Anastasia with her grandmother, though he also gains feelings for her, which is a stereotypical trope for a film like this.
Kelsey Grammer plays Vladimir or Vlad. He’s Dimitri's colleague who helps him hold auditions to find an Anastasia lookalike. Despite this he’s actually very likable. He has a close connection with Sophie, voiced by Bernadette Peters, who’s the Dowager Empress’s cousin.
Grigori Rasputin, voiced by Christopher Lloyd, is the main antagonist. He was once the Romanov’s royal advisor but was apparently fired. It’s never specifically stated that he was fired but it’s strongly hinted that he was. Out of spite he sells his soul for power, which he uses to curse the Romanov family. He does die similarly to the real Rasputin, drowning in a river, but later revives. Rasputin is another over-the-top large ham villain who completely steals the spotlight whenever he’s onscreen. Hank Azaria voices Bartok, a talking bat who’s Rasputin’s pet sidekick. He's a minor character who mostly serves as minor comic relief.
Angela Lansbury voices Dowager Empress Marie, who carries herself with grace and elegance in all of her appearances. After she loses Anastasia she becomes broken and bitter. She acts somewhat cold to others and is withdrawn. However, once she’s reunited with her granddaughter she becomes much more perky and cheerful, smiling often and becoming warmer to others.
The film has a large variation of songs that mixes with the mystical fantasy overview of the film. Some of the songs includes ‘Journey to the Past’ performed by Aaliyah, ‘At the Beginning’ performed by Richard Marx and Donna Lewis, and ‘Once Upon a December’ performed by Liz Callaway. There are several others, of which includes Liz Callaway’s version of ‘Journey to the Past’. The entire Anastasia soundtrack was released shortly before the film hit theaters.
The visuals are breathtaking. Many of the places featured in the film are a sight to behold. The most memorable visual is Anya’s fantasy inside the abandoned ballroom where she visualizes people dancing and sings ‘Once Upon a December’. The one downside is that there is CGI involved which noticeably stands out in some scenes.
Overall, and on a personal note, I highly recommend Anastasia. As I mentioned, this is my favorite film to watch around the holiday season, despite it having little to do with even winter. There are other things to enjoy, such as the beautiful visuals, amazing musical numbers, and interesting story. The best thing in the film is the character development. The central characters start off one way but eventually develop into different people as the film goes on. The ending is a bit open-ended and does leave you wanting to know what happens next. The romance is a bit cliché but fits in well and makes the ending complete. Another thing is Rasputin. Though he’s an interesting villain you could take him out after his resurrection and it wouldn’t change much in the story. The beautiful animation, cast chemistry, and a heart-filled story of returning home is sure the warm the hearts of many.
Original film trailer
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