Featuring an all-star cast of voices headed by Meg Ryan and John Cusack,
Anastasia is packed with emotion, action, comedy, and better than
average vocal characterizations. Not to mention epic production numbers,
exquisite computer animation, and incredibly detailed background paintings.
The film is so rich with subtle references and clever adult-oriented humor
that I would almost recommend it for grown-ups more than children, but,
of course, there is plenty of juvenile hilarity to go around. Another great
element is the music, with a rich score by David Newman and several great
songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens.
This is based (very loosely) on the true story of the grand dutchess
Anastasia of Russia, the youngest child of Tsar Nicholas Romanov, who was
executed along with the rest of his family by the Bolsheviks in 1917 during
the Russian Revolution. The real Anastasia was presumed dead for many years
as well, but evidence later suggested that the 8-year-old girl may have
escaped into anonymity. In this version, "Anya" (Ryan) turns up
at an orphanage, unaware of who she is because of a blow to the head suffered
during her escape. After coming of age and leaving the orphanage, she meets
up with a young man named Dimitri (Cusack), who, along with his friend Vladimir
(Kelsey Grammer), has been planning to train some young lass to "act"
like the long-missing grand dutchess. Then he would return her to the remaining
royal family, Anastasia's grandmother in Paris (Angela Lansbury), and collect
the substantial reward. Trouble is, others have tried to scam the wealthy
dowager before, and she's completly fed up. Still, Dimitri and Vladimir
convince Anya she's got nothing to lose, and before their long voyage from
St. Petersburg to Paris is over, Dimitri is convinced she's the real thing.
Meanwhile, the evil Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), who has a grudge against
the Romanov family, has sold his soul for the power to "get" the
dutchess. He and his not-so-willing accomplice, a bat named Bartok (Hank
Azaria of The Simpsons fame), provide loads of comic relief, and
at times some real terror, to the plot. Azaria's voice characterization
is hilarious, reminiscent of a Tim Conway character from the old Carol
The one flaw I mentioned is that the character animation is a little
rough, as is the blend between traditional and computer generated artwork.
Close-up faces do not move quite as smoothly as Disney's, but this does
not have anything to do with technique or talent, it's about MONEY. Perhaps
the film could have used a few more frames per second, but that surely would
have added several zeros to the production cost. Obviously, most of this
picture's audience will not notice, since they are accustomed to the terrible
animation now prevalent on Saturday morning cartoons.
All in all, this is one of the best animated features I have ever seen, Disney or otherwise. Since it is based on a true story, and not loaded with talking animals or magic kitchenware, it has an adult feel, a simple reality. If you like animated features, or ever have, then absolutely do not miss this movie. *****
See Current Reviews
See FilmQuips Archive