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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.

Dmitri, Anya and Vlad Anastasia  picture image

Dmitri, Anya and Vlad

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.

Anya and Pooka against St Petersburg Anastasia  picture image

Anya and Pooka against St Petersburg

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.

Vald, Anya, Pooka and Dmitri Learn to do it Anastasia  picture image

Vald, Anya, Pooka and Dmitri

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.

Rasputin and Bartok Anastasia  picture image

Rasputin and Bartok

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.

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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 Dmitri being snarky train scene Anastasia  picture image

Anya and Dmitri being snarky

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.

Anya singing Once Upon a December Anastasia picture image

Anya singing Once Upon a December

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.

Anya and Pooka Anastasia  picture image

Anya and Pooka

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!

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I have mentioned nostalgia clouding bad kid movies and trying to be above it, that being said it has caught up with me in a little way. A part of me knows that Don Bluth’s Thumbelina is not a good movie, it has a lot issues, but, but, but I really like this movie. I have good happy memories this movie. Even though it has some flaws, I still like it.

Thumbelina was released in 1994 by Don Bluth. It was clearly him copying that sweet, sweet Disney formula. In fact they played the Disney logo at the beginning at test screenings to help get positive ratings. This movie is really a Disney knock-off.

 Thumbelina  with Cornelius Thumbelina  picture image

Thumbelina with Cornelius

The movie starts with off in Paris with Jacquimo, a swallow. He gives us theme about over coming impossibility because Disney has the monopoly on the being yourself theme. He tells the story of Thumbelina from book even though he was in the story. I’m confused but whatever.

Story goes, this lady wants a baby so she gets an enchanted flower and out pops full grown Thumbelina. Thumbelina isn’t fan of being small and lonely. She hopes her love will come by and low and behold he does, one Fairy Prince Cornelius. After 7 minutes and 39 seconds of screen time which includes a Whole New World knock-off, they are in love and on their way to engagement or they are, I can’t really tell. I guess it like engaged to be engaged.

However, Thumbelina is kidnapped in the night by Charo-Toad. Charo-Toad, like everyone else in this movie, is smitten with Thumbelina’s voice. She wants to add Thumbelina to her act and she wants her to marry her son Grundel. They ditch Thumbelina on a lily pad to get the Padre or something.

As Thumbelina is stuck on the lily pad, Jacquimo FLIES by. Thumbelina tells her tale of love and woe and Jacquimo congratulations her for being in love. Jacquimo helps her off the lily pad by cutting it lose and getting some fishes to pull her to shore. Jacquimo tells her to follow her heart to find her way home and while she does that Jacquimo will FLY around looking for Cornelius.

Thumbelina then gets caught by Mr Beetle, played by Gilbert Gottfried who wants her to sing at the Beetle Ball. However, her Beetle costume was poorly made and falls off revealing her as not a bug and the beetles call her ugly. As she laments, Jacquimo FLIES by and comforts her. He comforts her by saying as long as the guy you like thinks your pretty it doesn’t matter. I think it’s just bad writing there.

Then winter comes, and Jacquimo and Cornelius, who have been looking for Thumbelina are knocked out of commission. Also on the hunt for Thumbelina are Grundel who has Mr Beetle working for him.

As the cold weather sets in, Thumbelina is saved from death by Ms. Fieldmouse. Ms. Fieldmouse informs Thumbelina that Cornelius is dead. Thumbelina gets to mourn him for a solid 15 seconds because they have visit Mr. Mole. Mr. Mole also likes Thumbelina’s voice and tells them that he found a dead bird which turns out to be Jacquimo but he isn’t dead. Mr. Mole then pays off Ms. Fieldmouse to persuade Thumbelina to marry him.

Thumbelina, heart-broken over Cornelius’ death and thinking she will never get home decides to marry the mole. She tells Jacquimo this and after she pulls a thorn from his wing he tells her to go with him to the prince. She does not as she think Cornelius is dead.

Thumbelina is about to marry the mole but can’t because she doesn’t love him and escapes. As she does, Grundel shows up and so does Cornelius who wasn’t dead just a little frozen. Jacquimo shows up again and takes Thumbelina to what he claims is the Vale of the Fairies. Thumbelina is pessimistic and asks him to take her home but he insists on her singing. As she sings spring comes and Cornelius shows up. Yay. They kiss and Thumbelina gets wings and they get married. Hooray!

Thumbelina with Jacquimo Thumbelina  picture image

Thumbelina with Jacquimo

The number one problem is that Jacquimo at any point could have flown Thumbelina home. We wouldn’t have had a movie but it’s a glaring issue. I’m not sure why he didn’t think to offer this or why Thumbelina didn’t ask. He instead offers to find Cornelius but he could have done that after he brought her home. It’s just one those plot hole that just leaves you confused and asking why.

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Another issue is with Thumbelina herself. Thumbelina doesn’t learn anything and she doesn’t earn her happy ending, it’s pretty much handed to her. All she has to do is say no to money but she was never about money and was wholly about love so there no growth for her character.

As far as her personality go, she is impressionable. Considering we don’t know how much time passes between her “birth” and the events of this movie, she could be a like two days old. So her being sheltered is understandable. She is also very pessimistic, she says “It’s Impossible” a lot.

In a way it’s refreshing to see a princess-like character being a negative-nancy, on the other hand without character growth it’s a little annoying. The thing is she’s right, it was impossible since we don’t see her make it home. She does go back at end when she is getting married but she is probably going to live with fairies, so she never really makes it back home. It wouldn’t have been impossible if stupid bird-jerk gave her a ride.

Speaking of Thumbelina, what is she? Cornelius kind of implies that fairies can get their wings later, so she is a fairy? But how did that seed work? Is she at all genetically related to her mother? Do fairies come from seeds? When two fairies love each other very much, do they plant a flower and out comes a baby? Or a grown-up non-winged fairy? I’m confused.

Thumbelina with Mr  Beetle picture image

Thumbelina with Mr Beetle

So as for the rest of the characters. They’re ok, Jacquimo is a well meaning co-dependent who is a little more than dumb, Cornelius is a rule-breaking flirt, the jitterbugs are cute, and the mom is bland but nice.

They other characters are ambitious and money grubbing. I think Grundel is a bit like Frollo, he obsessed with Thumbelina but doesn’t know her. I admit I do like Mr. Beetle, I find him amusing even if he is just Gilbert Gottfried doing Iago.

 Thumbelina  with Cornelius picture image

Thumbelina with Cornelius

Speaking of voice actors and Disney, Thumbelina is a pure unfiltered rip off of The Little Mermaid. Both are originally by Hans Christian Anderson, both use the same voice actress, Jodi Benson, both have red hair, both have beautiful and desirable voices. Hell both movies use Kenneth Mars voice of King Triton and the Fairy King. It even fade out to stain-glass. This movie feel very Disney-light.

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Thumbelina with Mrs. Toad

So since a hallmark of Disney films is the animation and the songs how does those compare. The animation is really good. I really like how stagey the visuals are to the songs. Some of the characters design are overtly silly, dogs and goats with mustaches and Charo-toad. But on the whole it’s a pretty movie to look at.

Ms Fieldmouse Thumbelina  picture image

Ms Fieldmouse

The songs were composed by Barry Manilow. I know people don’t like most of the songs, heck one won a Razzie but I don’t hate them. I prefer some over others. I like the Aladdin knock-off, Let me be your wings and the vague I want song, Soon.

The other songs are meh but enjoyable. That’s right, I enjoyed Marry the Mole, how often do you get a gold-digging song in a kid’s movie? It’s just enjoyably stupid.

Thumbelina with the Jitterbugs Thumbelina  picture image

Thumbelina with the Jitterbugs

Thumbelina is supposed to be about over coming impossibilities but it seems more like don’t do things for money but in copying Disney that is what Bluth did, he married the mole so to speak. I won’t deny this duality does lead to a kinda messy theme which in turn leads to a messy narrative but I do like this movie. Maybe it’s nostalgia for it but the I find Thumbelina enjoyable, with good pacing, lovely visuals, and some nice songs.