Anastasia (1997) was one my favorite movies back in the day. It was made by our old pal Don Bluth and came out on November 14th 1997 under 20th Century Fox. In many ways this film is the definitive princess movie and people sometimes mistake it as Disney movie as it uses that sweet, sweet Disney formula and did well at box-off as well garnered two Academy Awards nominations for the music. But is the movie good or is it bad? It’s a little bit of both.
PLOT! The film tells us that everything in 1916 Russia was just peachy (sure movie) that is till creepy-pants Rasputin gets fired from being best pals with Tsar Nicholas II and curses him and his family as he sold his soul because he is pissed off. The curse makes the “spark of unhappiness in Russia fan into a flame” that destroyed Imperial rule and ushered in communism. The movie doesn’t use that word and blames it all on Raspy. The night of the attack on the Romanovs, Anastasia goes back to her room with Grandmama Marie to get a music box and young boy gets them out a special exist. Rasputin tries to stop Anastasia but is killed when he falls through the ice. Anastasia and Marie then get separated and Anastasia gets Amnesia.
Ten years later, Marie is offering a lot of money for Anastasia’s return as the rumor goes she survived the February Revolution and gossip is the only thing to entertain the Russian because communism isn’t any fun…? Dmitri and Vlad are two conmen who plan on getting that money by hiring an actress to play Anastasia. Dmitri thinks he has an in as he has Anastasia’s music box, though he thinks it’s a jewelry box. As this is happening Anastasia is now called Anya and is getting released from an orphanage. Anya decides to go to Paris intend of going off to a job at some fish place as she has necklace that says “Together in Paris” and believes that is where her family is located. She first heads to St Petersburg along with her new puppy Pooka that she met on the road. She is told that to get to Paris she needs travel papers and she should speak to Dmitri at the Old Palace.
She goes to the Old Palace to meet him and has deju-vu moment. Dmitri, who isn’t having much luck hiring an actress thinks Anya could pass as Anastasia so he convinces her to join them. As she just wants to get to Paris, she agrees. Rasputin’s bat minion, Bartok is hanging out with source of Raspy’s power, a reliquary when he notices that the reliquary is stirring in Anya’s presence which convinces him that she is Anastasia and then the relic plunges Bartok into the underworld where Rasputin is in limbo because the curse failed. Raspy the plans to kill Anya as he has the source of his with his power back.
Rasputin tries to axe Anya a few times on the journey and fails but he does cause a lot of collateral damage. While Raspy fails, Dmitri and Vlad transform into Anya into a proper lady and teach her how to prove she is Anastasia, via song montage.
The gang reaches Paris and the meets Sophie, Marie’s cousin and Vlad’s old flame. Sophie interviews Anya and she proves to Dmitri that she is really Anastasia as he was the one who helped Anastasia and Marie out of the Palace as a kid. This bums Dmitri out since he is in love with her after all the bickering they did. They go to ballet to have Anya meet with Marie, however Anya overhears Marie chewing out Dmitri as a conman and this whole thing was just about the money, so Anya slaps him and decides to peace out of Paris that night, at least she got her Paris fun song montage.
Dmitri then kidnaps Marie and takes her to Anya’s room and shows her the box. Anya’s memories re-surface with the power of smell and the music box, which her keepsake necklace opens and the two are reunited.
Dmitri is offers the reward but doesn’t accept and peaces out. Anya then forced into her showdown with Rasputin which results is a lot of damage to both a nice bridge and her princess gown, that bastard. But Dmitri comes back and helps Anya defeat him and Raspy bits the dust, literally. Anya and Dmitri then elope and Grandmama is cool with it.
Let’s not mince word here, the reason why Anastasia is bad is because it takes a very bloody tumultuous period of history and fantasizes it. This movie is only accurate to people’s names and nothing else. To enjoy this movie you pretty much have to forget this is based on historical figures. Really they didn’t get anything right. It’s not like Romanovs or Rasputin haven’t been depicted in films before but the movie really makes light of the historical climatic of Russia. I mean it’s a sad when a disco song is more historical accurate about Rasputin (it’s a fun song though).
To the film’s somewhat credit, they know this was fantasy and in classic Disney fashion follows their clues from a classic movie, in this case the 1956 Anastasia
movie starting Yul Bynner and Ingrid Bergman. However reading stuff on the film from The Art of Anastasia, it says that they wanted a My Fair Lady type story where a girl is transformed from something ordinary to something glorious and apparently the world princess got kicked around a lot so this was the story they decided on.
Would it have been better to not include this period of Russian history and instead have a clearly fictitious story with clearly fictitious characters with a Russian setting? Hard to say because the Anastasia myth captured the world’s imagination for a long period time. It’s an impossible story to tell cleanly for kids but clearly the people who worked on the film loved it tried hard even if it is grossly inaccurate. Should we pass it because it’s children movie? No, that shouldn’t reason pass off this kind of stuff. It’s historically inaccurate, it’s just fact.
If you can for 90 minutes tell your purist part of your brain to shut-up, Anastasia is a good movie. It has great pacing, a solid script, lovely animation, some great songs and some memorable characters. Vlad is likable, Pooka is adorable, Dmitri while a snarky lair does get a decent arc, Bartok thinks Raspy’s plan is dumb and Marie is somewhat harsh but kind. You understand them and that is something you don’t often get in movies.
Rasputin though is weak. I know we turned off our purist brains but the real Rasputin was a really intriguing figure and this movie doesn’t even try to capture him except one part of his death, the ice.
This Rasputin is pissed off for getting fired or something so he tries to kill the royals. I mean Nicholas shouldn’t have fired crazy but really that is his motivation for selling his soul to the Dark Forces? Side note, movie can’t say Communism or evil or demonic. They can say comrade and dark forces though, so lame.
Rasputin as the antagonist is both obvious and contrived. He always took the indirect methods to kill Anya. Once made the train go crazy and destroyed a bridge, second to sneak in her dreams and tried to get her to jump off a boat, and the third to drown her by destroying another bridge. Rasputin doesn’t like bridges apparently, but likes water. He could used his dark minions to stop her heart or something but he had to go for theatrics and cause infrastructure damage. If you want to watch a movie about Rasputin either watch Agony (which is a communist propaganda movie and he is a gross figure) or if you find it, Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny, staring Alan Rickman.
Anya/Anastasia is great character. She’s tough and no-nonsense but she is compassionate and fun. She knows exactly what she wants; family and a home so she can know her past so she understand herself.
This makes her follow Ariel in a way, as Ariel knew what she wanted; the people world. The other Disney Princesses (and most of the non-Disney Princesses, looking at you Yum-Yum) are more vague in their wants and desires. Anya, unlike the more classic Disney Princesses works at what she wants. She seeks out Dmitri for help but he needs her more than she needs him, she helps with getting out Raspy’s train plan and she kills Raspy, twice. Girl even fights in her princess gown. Anya is probably the closet to Mulan in activeness and Ariel is knowing what she really wants from life but she never feels like she it directly copying the Disney Princesses.
Anya and Dmtri’s romance is interesting. They spend enough time together to form an attraction that starts off as snarky but over time they come to respect each other. It is formulaic but enjoyable.
The animation is really good for the most part. The CG work looks dated and forced but hand-drawn stuff is lovely. They do repeat animation but you hardly notice.
The songs run the gambit from amazing to ok. Once upon a December is the best song in the movie. It’s beautiful and haunting. Journey to the past is a good I want song and did get an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. In the Dark of the Night is a cool enough song but the bugs should have been skeletons or demons or something cool and creepy and there is some silly lyrics. The rest of the songs are ok. No complaints on the music it’s solid. And like Thumbelina the music numbers are all theatrical which is fun and memorable.
Some fun little Trivia- Helene Segara of Notre Dame de Paris, sang a cover of Once upon a December for the French Soundtrack and I used play Once upon a December on the Piano, I had the sheet music, it was my jam in the day.
Anastasia suffers for its gross historical white washing but otherwise it’s a good entertaining movie. Did I mention this movie has a fucking puppy in it? PUPPIES! And not one but THREE PRETTY DRESSES!Follow thehunchblog