Anastasia could be called an animated musical or an alternate history, a fantasy perhaps, and any of those labels seem pretty fitting to me, but I’d argue it’s a drama before the others – though there is somewhat Disney-like magic here as well.
And while I definitely don’t have much knowledge of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna, I do know that back in the late nineties there was still a hypothetical chance that she had survived the revolution, though more bodies found in 2007 likely squashed the rumours once and for all. (I think in Russia actually, the movie was received as a fantasy in terms of its distance from true events.)
But again, at the time of Anastasia’s release there was perhaps still some lingering romance associated with the myth – secret royalty, mistaken identities, lost family deserving of reunion – and so perhaps some of that fuelled the success of the film? Either way, it is undeniably beautifully made and can certainly stand alone when you set all the historical aspects aside.
The movie is the one of the last (so far) to be released by veteran director and animator Don Bluth. He’s know for his long association with Disney and then a string of hit films in the 1980s (like The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail or maybe Dragon’s Lair if you’re more into gaming) and I think by the late 1990s he must have had a great team, well-deserved confidence and also, a large budget to make a really impressive film – which he did.
Visually, it’s stunning, from background art to animation to the staging and the direction, to the use of lighting and highlights, it really makes for a fairy-tale like atmosphere at times. I especially like the snow scenes or Anya’s exploration of the abandoned palace and later, the nightlife in Paris. There, the animators step into a romanticised version of the city and create beautiful pointillism-style backdrops that I really enjoyed.
You can probably guess as to what’s coming next – the things that I didn’t enjoy as much; sometimes the character designs seemed a little ‘cheeky’ and by that I mean that I’m not used to see the shape of cheeks drawn in animated works, so that kinda threw me even though it shouldn’t have. And in terms of the magical element, I feel like the Rasputin storyline wasn’t precisely necessary for the film to be great. It would have been an engaging drama without that aspect, which distracted from the main conflict for me. Supposedly Bluth and team used that to sidestep the political nature of the source material but even the mistaken-identity-(kinda)-double-bluff love story would have been enough for me.
Elsewhere, the voice acting is great (though I don’t remember any of the songs precisely). Kelsey Grammar has a rich voice and Meg Ryan is as distinctive as ever too. And that might seem like a bit of a put down to the songs but it’s probably more that I was focused on the story and visuals, rather than the songs themselves.
So, while I think it’s a beautiful film I didn’t love it, but I reckon if you’re interested in American animation and work from one of the teams once able to go toe-to-toe with Disney in the (mostly) 2D world, then I think Anastasia is definitely worth a look.