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(NOTE: Just to be perfectly clear: This is NOT a Disney movie. This is a 20th Century Fox production, and the picture above is NOT from the version that I'm reviewing - I've never seen that film, but when I wrote this review, that picture wasn't there.)
When this movie came out, my kids made me take them to see it. Knowing the story before hand, I was wary of going in the first place. I mean, really! Why take such a tragic and controversial story and turn it into a light-hearted film? For this same reason, I have refused to go see many of the more recent Disney animated films. Little did I know that I was going to see an animated film that made even the worst of Disney’s animated "classics" look flawless.
Perhaps the biggest problem with this movie is that it isn’t a Disney movie at all. No, this one was made by 20th Century Fox, by the famous ex-Disney team of Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. Unfortunately, without the heavy-weight comfort of Disney Studios to guide them, they ended up with a fumbling bit of work that just doesn’t make the grade.
But it isn’t all bad. It does have the voice of Meg Ryan in the title role to give it a modicum of class (but I bet she’s more than pleased that her face doesn’t actually appear on screen in this one). Unfortunately, that is the only good part of this film - Meg's voice (and she doesn't even sing her own songs, which might also be a plus, from what I understand). That they also got John Cusack to play her romantic lead Dimitri, is a true waste of talent - mostly because Cusack may be an excellent actor, but his voice isn’t distinctive enough to make it identifiable (lucky him!). Those few suckers… eh… professionals like Bernadette Peters and Angela Lansbury, which they trapped… um… convinced to help out with this movie that DO have distinctive voices, are stuck with bit parts that were hardly worth the trip to the sound studio. But enough of that rant. On to the movie itself.
We all know the story. A girl, who may or may not be the only living heir to the Russian royal family after the revolution, tries to find out if she really is just that. Many versions of this story have been filmed in live action. Some better than others, but all point up the tragic mystery of the roots of an orphan. But this film gives a happy ending where in truth, there was none. Granted, lots of Disney films have done the same, and I personally think this is a stupid approach. I believe that children should know that some stories just don't have happy endings - or at least ones that have semi-happy endings, with a bittersweet after taste. One good example of this is an old favourite - "Jungle Book" where, although the child returns to live with humans, the animals who cared for him lose a friend. In the true story of Anastasia, the exact identity of this orphan girl was never actually proved one way or another, and many girls did their best to try and trick the real family members into believing that they were the long-lost heir.
The fact that the writers ignored this was bad enough (and I suppose that this film came during that trend to make sad historical stories into fun children’s movies - Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas, etc.). That they did such convoluted embellishments as to cooking up some story about the girl being sent to an orphanage when she was too young to know who she really was, can only be considered ridiculous. And the idea that she’d be able to keep even a small heirloom while in an orphanage, just in order to identify her as the real heir is totally ludicrous. I mean, how many orphanages would actually let some little girl hang on to anything that might have even the smallest value, all her life - especially in post-revolutionary, Communist Russia? Especially one that, according to this film, wasn’t terribly nice to its inmates. Yes, I could go on and on about the holes in this plot and script, but why make you all suffer?
One of the biggest differences between this 20th Century Fox film and even the less than realistic “true story” adaptations done by Disney Studios, is that at least the latter studio can give us a few tolerable songs - some even memorable ones. Pocahontas is a good example of this. A truly tragic story (the real-life girl died at the age of 21 and apparently wasn’t very nicely treated after her move to London), that at least had one excellent song to promote it. This film hasn't even that small claim to fame. Even the one ‘hit’ of this movie, the song “Once Upon a December” written by the Broadway team of Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty doesn’t cut the mustard. So, my next “thumbs down” here goes to the score of this film. And I use that term lightly, since the music is one junk yard of forgetful tunes with overly sweet lyrics (for 1997). I base this opinion on the fact that not a one of these songs was memorable enough to have outlasted the theatre screening stage of this movie. What I mean by that is, how many people can’t remember songs from much older animated films than this, yet don’t remember “Once Upon a December”? I refer to such classics as “When You Wish Upon a Star” from Pinocchio, “Some Day My Prince Will Come” from Sleeping Beauty, and even “Cruella DeVille” from 101 Dalmatians. Get my point?
And if we’re speaking of the music, lets investigate the “dance scenes”. We all know how many people have disparaged the old 50s musicals because of their habit of breaking out into song and dance for no reason whatsoever besides them being in the area when the song starts. I thought that we had outgrown that even in live-action musicals back in the 60s and 70s. So why on earth did the writers of this movie - an animated film made in 1997, no less - have to add just such a scene? Its totally beyond me, and I personally found it to be stupid looking and completely amateurish.
And heaven forbid that any animated film should be without the “adorable” side-kick. This one comes in the form of Anastasia’s little dog - based on the true Anastasia’s love of dogs. And a truly obnoxious dog it is too. This runt of a pup never seems to age or grow, is never anything but chirpy. I had the urge to kick it several times when it was acting particularly saccharine. It adds nothing to the story but what I call the “ooh-ah” factor. You know what I mean. That’s when babies, puppies or kittens show up on screen for the sole purpose to get the audience to “ooh” and “ah” over them. Give it up, folks - its old hat already.
Even considering that this film was made only as recently as 1997, the animation reminded me of much earlier animated films. Here we have barely two dimensional characters on a water-coloured washed backgrounds that totally fail to make the grade. At least even the early Disney animators could make beautiful backgrounds for their films. You would have thought that animators would have learned by 1997 to give a bit more even look to these films. Disney has tried and, to some extent, succeeded. Not so this 20th Century Fox film. So, where some animated films might have a visual beauty to assist them when the plot and script and music was weak, this one comes up lacking once again.
Finally, when one looks for a film to take their kids to, they want something that is not only entertaining but also with at least some sort of a message. I still haven't figured out what kind of message this film sent my kids (except perhaps ‘keep your heirlooms away from the mean orphanage staff because they may prove that you are actually royalty’. How relevant could that be for my kids, do you think?), and I certainly wasn't entertained. And if I recall correctly, at the time, my kids weren’t all that thrilled with it either. You know a film isn’t up to snuff if you don’t hear your kids asking for a copy of the movie for their own about four million times until you give in. Just before my kids forced me to take them to this movie, there was a revival of the original “101 Dalmatians” which I took them to see. You can bet your boots that I have a copy of that video in my home library, and even as my kids get older (and we now have a DVD player), they still love watching it. Anastasia? Long forgotten and not missed in the least.
In sum, I wouldn't recommend this movie for either adults or children. There is nothing to recommend it. The story is badly distorted, the music doesn't grab your ears, the animation is third rate and it neither entertains nor teaches us anything useful. If you have to see this film - make sure you're brain dead first, and then, only take your youngest kids. They'll never know the difference. Or will they?
Thanks for reading (and, I believe, helping me turn orange in the process!!).
~~~~~ Technical Stuff: This is a review of the film only, as per the criteria below.
This is a VERY OLD Epinions review I wrote which I’ve re-vamped for Ciao!
You know what? I’m not going to give you all the statistics of this movie (video or DVD availability, price, etc.) because, to tell you the truth - you DON’T want to rent this movie, let alone buy it - just trust me on this one.
Oh, OK. If you must know… Amazon.co.uk is selling this on DVD for £15.19 (not cheap, but then, I wouldn’t buy this even if they paid me the £15.19 to take it!). From the Amazon.co.uk web page: “Release Information: Studio: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, DVD Release Date: 5 November, 2001, Run Time: 91 minutes. Edition Details: Region 2 encoding (Europe, Middle East & Japan only), Animated, PAL, ASIN: B00005NOLY, Catalogue Number: 02764DVD.” The video is only available in VHS format in the USA.
As an update, I see that on Amazon.co.uk they also have the soundtrack (which IS for this movie) on CD for £12.99. The Video version sells for £11.69, listed as Dolby, Surround Sound, Animated, Closed-captioned, PAL, ASIN: B00004CXAS, Catalogue Number: 2764S - in case you're interested. Are you, really?
If you want any really good information about the “real” Anastasia, I suggest you visit this web page which is far more interesting than even the opening credits of this movie. http://www.royalty.nu/Europe/Russia/Anastasia.html ~~~~~
Well analysed, think you have convinced me that there is nothing good about this film to bother watching it. Jane x
stargazer14 12.09.2004 12:04
sadly, i have to completely disagree a movie should not be judged by the fact that it is not a disney movie and therefore it is bad, take Spirited Away, Shrek and Shrek 2 for example... all great masterpieces. Liked reading ur review tho, if if i did love the film.... it's a great babysitting movie!
patriciat 25.02.2004 22:38
You're quite right - I don't want to see this. Had a morbid fascination with the Romonovs after reading a book about Anastasia and that woman who claimed to be her, wouldn't want anything to do with this film. Pat.t