Anastasia Review

This blog is from my column on I would love if you guys checked that out.

This week’s choice for Family Movie Night is the 1997 animated film Anastasia.  It is not a perfect but I find it very entertaining and I think your family will as well.

Anastasia was one of only two films from Fox Animation Studios which was formed in a merger with Sullivan Bluth Studios after their Thumbelina hadn’t done very well. Unfortunately neither of the films were big successes and they closed in 2000 but Anastasia has remained popular among animation fans and with good reason.

Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, Anastasia combines a real story with a fairytale feel, which is normally something I do not enjoy.  For instance, I have big problems with Disney’s Pocahontas.  The reason I think Anastasia fares a little bit better is most of the characters are fictitious where nearly all are real people in Pocahontas.  Plus in Anastasia the characters are a little more nuanced than the ‘natives good, white people bad’ you see in Pocahontas.   I don’t give it a complete pass on the inaccuracies but Anastasia does not make me as uncomfortable as other films.

What’s especially peculiar about Anastasia as source material is it is not about the princess but about the woman Anna Anderson who in the 1920’s claimed to be the princess.  It’s a strange place to start a story but it works as kind of a mystery.

Basically the plot starts when the Romanov family led by Tsar Nicholas are murdered by a military coup led by Rasputin.  This is done mostly in flashback and is not as scary or bloody as it sounds.  The youngest daughter Anastasia is rescued by a kitchen boy and flees the city.  Next, we jump ahead 10 years and Anya is an orphan who doesn’t remember who she was or where she came from.

Meanwhile the Dowager Empress Marie, Anastasia’s grandmother, has put out a reward for anyone who can find the princess.  Tempted by the prize, two con-men, Demitri and Vladimir, hold auditions Anastasia_Goldento find a princess they can pass off to Marie and get the money.  Anya stumbles upon them and naturally gets the part.  They begin training her on the ways of the royal family and house and start a road trip to Paris to meet with Marie.
Rasputin is naturally the villain in the picture and he is voiced by Christopher Lloyd.  His song ‘In the Dark of the Night’ is very well done even if it does look a lot like Be Prepared from The Lion King.  Rasputin in this version has sold his soul to the devil in order to remove the Romanov family from the earth, so deep is his hatred for them   Once he finds out Anastasia may be alive and going to meet her Grandmother he of course tries to kill her.  One especially dramatic sequence involves a train crash which is so well animated.

The animation in Anastasia is lush, vivid and beautiful.  I kind of wish Don Bluth hadn’t completely abandoned his signature more sketchy style but it cannot be denied how good the movie looks.  The plot is also tightly paced and engrossing.  They did a good job with the chemistry between Demitri and Anya and aside from a lame liar reveal subplot they are believable as a couple.

All the vocal performances are good except it is annoying to me that aside from Lansbury and Grammer nobody does their own singing.  In a film like this celebrity voices aren’t necessary.  They don’t add anything to the story and I think they should have just gone with the singers for all the vocals.  Let’s put it this way: nobody went to Anastasia to hear John Cusack’s vocal performance, so at best it is an unnecessary expense.

That said, the songs are the real standout to Anastasia.  It feels like a Broadway play and that is probably because they are written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty who have done many shows including Ragtime, Once on this Island and My Favorite Year.  In some cases the lyrics are actually stronger than Disney offerings such as Tarzan or Hercules (which I adore both).  The score is also good by David Newman.  I think if Anastasia had been a bigger hit they could have had a great Broadway musical out of it.

To see the rest of Rachel’s reviews, click here.

Overall, Anastasia ends up being a very entertaining animated film.  There is a nice heart to the picture and the romance really works.  The songs are well done and the animation is lush and vivid.  If you watch it with your family it might be a good chance to talk about some of the true history and the adaptation process within different mediums.  You can also discuss honesty, self-discovery and the importance of family.  In the end it will be a great choice for the entire family for Family Movie Night.

Overall Grade B

Favorite Non-Disney Animated Movies

Hi guys!

I just thought you might be wondering what my opinion is on non-Disney animated films.  I’m not talking Pixar,Studio Ghibli or other Disney wings because they should get their own list.  I’m talking about other studios like Dreamworks, which while not as consistently my favorites like Disney, they have made some great animated films.

So here we go in no particular order.

1. The Adventures of Tintin- underrated action adventure movie.  Yes, it is motion capture not traditional animation but I figure if it looks, feels, acts like an animated film it is an animated film.  More people should have seen this movie.  It was so entertaining!

2. The Lego Movie- one of the most visually inventive movies I’ve ever seen.  The effects with the legos blew me away.  Great voice work by whole cast, and the script is so well written. Every joke got a laugh from me and then there’s moments that were surprisingly tender.  It is the best movie I’ve seen at capturing how a child plays with their toys and how incapable adults are at understanding that play.

3. Kung Fu Panda 1 and 2- both films are very entertaining with a likable lead character, fun action, beautiful visuals, and great villains.

4. Secret of Nimh- wonderful movie featuring one of the toughest Moms in movies.  She doesn’t want to be a hero but will do anything for her son.  There’s humor, adventure and most importantly real heart.

5. Anastasia- one of the best animated romantic comedies put onto film.  Great chemistry, a fun villain, and decent music.  The story is silly but I still find it very entertaining.

6. How to Train Your Dragon- haven’t seen sequel but want to.  Original was very entertaining.  It’s a predictable story but told very well.  Great voice cast and a great heart to the story of Hiccup and his desire to please his demanding father.  The relationship between him and the dragon is very absorbing. Beautiful flying visuals.

7. Prince of Egypt- some people have problems with the changes from the Biblical story but not me. I am mad for the music, just love it and the scene where Moses communes with the burning bush is breathtaking.  I’m a huge fan of biblical epics and this stands with the best.

8. Arthur Christmas- A movie I thought looked really stupid and then totally surprised me.  Santa’s youngest son Arthur believes in bringing Christmas to every child and when he finds a girl has been missed will do anything to make it right.  I love the idea that even the North Pole has become over-commercialized for Christmas.  I love Christmas movies so this is a big win.  Great voice cast. Real heart.

9. Chicken Run- An homage to Dirty Dozen and other prison escape movies from the 50s.  Great writing and voice work.  Terrific villain and the stop motion animation is fabulous.

10. Transformers 1986- Michael Bay should be strapped down and forced to watch this movie for a week straight to understand how it should be done.  Those bloated, obnoxious mess of movies don’t have 1/10th the heart of this animated film.  Orson Wells is Optimus Prime and he is great.  It’s got action and fun characters and with every Michael Bay monstrosity it looks better and better (Transformers 2 and 3 are 2 of the worst movies I’ve ever seen.  I just can’t see 4.  It’s too much.) Boys deserve better transformers movies and this animated film gives it to them. .

11.  Charlotte’s Web- One of the best non-Disney animated musicals.  Sweet songs with great vocal performances by Debbie Reynolds and Paul Lynde.  It’s actually pretty sad but in a way that will teach kids about friendship and sacrifice.

12. Iron Giant- If you haven’t seen this film, stop what you are doing, go out and watch it.  The animation is stunning.  The story has real heart and lovely characters.  It is a total winner!

13. Paranorman- everyone who thinks I’m a total softy when it comes to darker movies will probably be surprised to find this on my list.  I like a good ghost story and this definitely fits the bill.  It’s more for teens than children.  Some of the images are pretty scary and the humor, like the jock actually being gay, is probably more for teens than little kids.  It looks amazing.  Has some genuine scares and the story surprised me.  Very well done.

14. Simpsons Movie- Everyone is always shocked to find out I love the Simpsons.  My favorite show of all time.  My brother and sister and I would watch it every week and 26 seasons later still do.  The movie is overwritten and could have been better but I still really enjoy it.  I love the characters and the HD colors add a nice touch to the movie over the TV show.  Simpsons has given me so many laughs I love it.  Lisa is my particular favorite.

15. Pirates: Band of Misfits- A movie nobody saw but I really enjoyed.  It’s funny with Charles Darwin as our unlikely hero.  The stop motion looks great and voice work is engaging.  A hidden gem!

16. Curious George- So few movies are made well for children under 5.  Curious George is one of those movies.  It is sweet and engaging with lovely songs from Jack Johnson.  One that is unabashadly for the smallest of children and yet adults won’t be miserable.

17. Lord of the Rings (Bakshi)- It’s not as good as the Peter Jackson movies but it is also a different take on an epic story.  To me there is room for multiple retellings of the Lord of the Rings and Bakshi crams a lot of story into this film.  Maybe not a masterpiece but I enjoy it.  The music is wonderful and characters engrossing.  If you like the story of Lord of the Rings give this animated version a chance.  I think this is what the Black Cauldron was trying to be and it isn’t near as successful.

18. Batman Mask of the Phantasm- Still my favorite Batman movie (yes, you read right).  Intense without being too violent.  Batman is interesting without being over-the-top.  I hate in the live action movies how the villains are always more interesting than Batman.  Not the case here.  Great animation.  Great voice work.  If you haven’t seen it and love the Nolan films give it a shot.

19. Happy Feet- A flawed film but I love the music and it is so unabashedly cheerful I enjoy it.  It’s the kind of movie I put in when I’m sick and it brightens my day.  Huge talented cast and serviceable story.

20. Charlie Brown Christmas Special- I realize this was for TV but I couldn’t not include it.  One of the best Christmas movies ever made.  Perfect soundtrack.  Lovely message and delightful characters. It focuses on the Christ message of Christmas in a way that is powerful without being overbearing.