Directors: Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
Writers: Susan Gauthier, Bob Tzudiker, Noni White and Eric Tuchman
Starring: Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammar, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury
For most of the 20th century there have been various films, books and general folklore putting forth the idea that Anastasia Nikolaevna survived her family’s execution in mid-1918. The idea is that she went into hiding and several people have come forward claiming to be her in the last century. It’s not been proven that she died with her family, but the stories are still spread around. Before the conclusive evidence was discovered, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman captured a generation with their animated adaptation of the modern fairy tale.
Anastasia (Meg Ryan) and her grandmother, Marie Feodorovna Romanov (Angela Lansbury) escape from an attack on the palace by revolutionaries. While escaping Anastasia falls, hitting her head and leaving her with amnesia, while Marie manages to board a train. Ten years pass and Anastasia has no idea about her past, while at the same time Marie is searching for her lost granddaughter, offering a huge reward. Dimitri (John Cusack) sees the opportunity to con Marie, by holding auditions for someone to take the place of Anastasia. While searching for the perfect candidate he unknowingly comes across the real Anastasia.
The animation feels very Disney-like for a film made by a rival studio at the time (Funnily enough the rights are now owned by Disney). You could almost mistake this for a Disney classic form the time and it stands proudly alongside the releases at the time. It still has the flair that you’d expect from Don Bluth, especially with the way the characters move. You can feel this is from the same man behind Dragon’s Lair. Now that the film is almost a quarter of a century old, it does show it’s age a little, but it’s not too distracting.
The cast for this film is great for the time. They were all big stars when the film came out, from Meg Ryan who has starred in several big films, John Cusack who was the height of his career, to Christopher Lloyd who was still riding high from Back to the Future and The Addams Family. The only disappointment with the cast is that they aren’t doing their own singing. It would have been pretty special to hear Christopher Lloyd sing his songs. In replacement we do get a great set of singers, and they do sound very close to the actual actors.
While the story is based on a modern myth, it does still follow a traditional structure. Dimitri isn’t a nice character at first, but he grows. He gets closer to Anastasia, and cares less and less about the con he’s been planning. It’s a standard story, and there’s nothing surprising here. The characters are likable and it does help this become an engrossing story.
While there’s nothing revolutionary about the story and the animation has aged a little, Anastasia is still a modern classic. It’s one of the better western animated films from the 1990s not to come from Disney, and it’s still just as enjoyable today.
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