Reviewed by Dan Lybarger
November 18, 1997
In 1920, a nameless woman tried to kill herself by jumping into a Berlin canal. She was lost, unable to speak, and had no memory of her past. This woman (who today is known as Anna Anderson) later claimed to be Anastasia, the youngest daughter of the Last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II. Her declaration seemed odd. It was thought that all of the Tsar’s family had been killed by the Bolsheviks, and she spoke no Russian. Nonetheless, she was a dead-ringer for the Grand Duchess and knew intimate details of imperial family.
Although recent DNA tests indicate that Anna Anderson was not who she claimed to be, her legend continues and is the basis for an uneven but entertaining cartoon. Anastasia follows the adventures of an eighteen-year-old orphan named Anya (charmingly voiced by Meg Ryan) who wanders into St. Petersburg hoping to find out who gave her a necklace that reads "Together in Paris." She hooks up with a couple of likable con artists, Dmitri and Vlad (John Cusak and Kelsey Grammer) who agree to take her to Paris if she’ll pretend to be the missing Grand Duchess and claim her inheritance. Being penniless and without friends or family, she agrees. The partners have a couple of major obstacles to their quest. They have to convince Anastasia’s grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury) that she is legitimate, and they have to avoid the undead magician Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) who is determined to kill any surviving Russian royals.
The story presented here is generally engaging, full of adventure and romance, and not terribly close to history (if you want the facts, read a book). The animators led by directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (the ex-Disney team responsible for The Secret of Nimh and The Land before Time) dish out enough spectacle for three or four movies. The palaces of the Tsars and Paris in the 20’s are lovingly recreated. In addition, the animation is richly detailed; even the background figures are well defined.
If Anastasia had to rely merely on its animation, it would be a masterpiece. Unfortunately, it suffers some of the same flaws that have plagued recent Disney cartoons. The songs are pleasant, but they have little style and are not very catchy. The storyline is generally compelling (what child doesn’t fantasize about being a "lost" prince or princess?), but its liberal borrowing from other movies like My Fair Lady and It Happened One Night blunt some of this film’s emotional impact.
Anastasia is still worth seeing merely for the opulence of the images, which would be lost on home video. Anastasia may have its problems, but it is a fine debut for Fox’s new animation division and is frequently fit for a princess (G). Rating: 7.
This page was last updated on 11/18/97.