Anastasia (1997 film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Don Bluth
|Produced by||Don Bluth
|Written by||Susan Gauthier
|Music by||David Newman|
|Edited by||Bob Bender
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
Anastasia is a 1997 American animated musical fantasy drama film produced by Fox Animation Studios and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Directed by former Disney animation directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, the film is an animated adaptation of the 1956 live-action film of the same name, both based on the urban legend claiming that the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, in fact survived the execution of her family. It tells the story of an eighteen-year-old orphan named Anya who, in hopes of finding some trace of her family, sides with a pair of con men who wish to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess. The film features the voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst and Angela Lansbury.
The film premiered on November 14, 1997 in New York City, and was released on November 21, 1997 in the United States, and despite the objections of some historians to its fantastical retelling of the life of the Grand Duchess, enjoyed a positive reception from many critics. From a $53 million budget, the film grossed $139,804,348 worldwide, making Anastasia a box office success. The film also received nominations for several awards, including two Oscars for Best Original Song ("Journey to the Past") and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score. It is the most profitable film from Don Bluth and Fox Animation Studios to date.
In 1916, Tsar Nicholas II hosts a ball at the Catherine Palace to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial. His mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, is visiting from Paris and gives a music box and a necklace inscribed with the words “Together in Paris” as parting gifts to her youngest granddaughter, eight-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia. The ball is suddenly interrupted by Grigori Rasputin, a sorcerer who was banished by the Tsar for treason. Rasputin sells his soul in exchange for an unholy reliquary, which he uses to place a curse on the Romanov family, sparking the Russian Revolution. Only Marie and Anastasia are able to escape the siege of the palace, thanks to a young servant boy named Dimitri, who shows them a secret passageway in Anastasia's room. Rasputin confronts the two royals outside, only to fall through the ice and freeze to death. The pair manage to reach a moving train, but only Marie climbs aboard while Anastasia falls, hitting her head on the platform.
Ten years later, Russia is under communist rule, and Marie has publicly offered 10 million rubles for the safe return of her granddaughter. Two con men, Dimitri and his friend and partner Vladimir, thus search for an Anastasia lookalike to present to Marie in Paris and collect the reward. Elsewhere, Anastasia, now using the name "Anya", leaves the rural orphanage where she grew up, having lost her memory prior to arriving there. Accompanied by a stray puppy she names "Pooka", she turns down a job at a fish factory in favor of going to Saint Petersburg after her necklace inspires her to seek out her family in Paris. In the deserted palace she encounters Dimitri and Vladimir, who—impressed by her resemblance to the "real" Anastasia—decide to take her with them.
Bartok, Rasputin's albino bat minion is nearby and notices his master's dormant reliquary suddenly revived by Anastasia's presence; it drags him to limbo, where the soul of Rasputin survives. Enraged to hear that Anastasia escaped the curse, Rasputin sends demonic spirits from the reliquary to kill her; despite two attempts, the trio manage to (unwittingly) foil him, forcing Rasputin and Bartok to travel back to the surface.
Anastasia, Dimitri and Vladimir eventually reach Paris and go to meet Marie, who refuses to see her, having been nearly fooled numerous times before by impostors. Despite this, Sophie—Marie's cousin—quizzes Anastasia to confirm her identity. Dimitri and Vladimir had taught Anastasia all the answers, but when Anastasia independently (though vaguely) recalls how Dimitri saved her ten years ago, Dimitri finally realizes that she is the real Grand Duchess, and later informs Vladimir at the Russian Ballet. Dimitri, however, insists they do not reveal this truth to Anastasia. Sophie, convinced as well, arranges for Anastasia to meet Marie after a Russian ballet. However, Marie wants nothing to do with Dimitri, having heard of him and his initial scheme to lie to her. As Anastasia overhears that Dimitri was using her all along, she then slaps him across the face and storms out. Dimitri, having fallen in love with Anastasia, manages to change Marie's mind by presenting her with Anastasia's music box, which he had found after their escape. Anastasia's memory returns upon meeting Marie, and grandmother and granddaughter are reunited at long last.
The next day, Marie offers Dimitri the reward money, but to her surprise he refuses it and leaves for Russia, convinced that he cannot be with Anastasia. That night, at Anastasia's return celebration, Marie informs her of Dimitri's gesture and leaves her to her thoughts. Anastasia then wanders through a garden and onto the Pont Alexandre III, where she is trapped and attacked by Rasputin. Dimitri returns to save her, but is injured and knocked unconscious. Anastasia manages to kill Rasputin by crushing the reliquary under her foot, avenging her family. With Rasputin's soul having been tied to the reliquary, he promptly dies and dissolves.
Afterwards, Dimitri and Anastasia reconcile; the two then elope and Anastasia sends a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie, promising to return one day. The film ends with the couple finally kissing on a riverboat, and Bartok shares a kiss with a female bat.
- Kirsten Dunst (young) and Meg Ryan (adult) as Anastasia, the youngest daughter and one of two surviving members of the Imperial family. Her young and adult singing voices were, respectively, supplied by Lacey Chabert and Liz Callaway.
- John Cusack as Dimitri, a young conman who falls for Anastasia. His singing voice is provided by Jonathan Dokuchitz.
- Kelsey Grammer as Vladimir "Vlad" Vanya Voinitsky Vasilovich, a former nobleman.
- Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin, a dangerous and power-mad sorcerer who cast a curse that would claim the lives of all but two members of the Imperial family: Anastasia and Marie. His singing voice is dubbed by Jim Cummings.
- Hank Azaria as Bartok, Rasputin's bumbling small albino bat sidekick who serves as the film's comic relief.
- Angela Lansbury as the The Dowager Empress Marie, the mother of Nicholas II and Anastasia's grandmother.
- Bernadette Peters as Sophie Stanislovskievna Somorkov-Smirnoff, Marie's first cousin and lady-in-waiting.
- Andrea Martin as Phlegmenkoff, the orphanage's inconsiderate owner.
- Rick Jones as Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last Russian Emperor and Anastasia's father.
The film score was composed, co-orchestrated, and conducted by David Newman, whose father, Alfred Newman composed the score of the 1956 film of the same name. The songs, of which "Journey to the Past" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, were written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The film's soundtrack was released in CD and audio cassette format on October 28, 1997.
Anastasia received a generally positive reception from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 86% based on 51 reviews. The website's consensus reads, "Beautiful animation, an affable take on Russian history, and strong voice performances make Anastasia a winning first film from Fox animation studios." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, writing, "The result is entertaining and sometimes exciting". Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Enquirer described Anastasia as "charming" and "entertaining," concluding, "Anastasia serves up a tasty tale about a fairy-tale princess." Lisa Osbourne of Boxoffice called the film "pure family entertainment." Awarding the film three out of five stars, Empire's Philip Thomas wrote, "Historical inaccuracies aside, Anastasia manages to be a charming little movie".
Several critics have drawn positive comparisons between Anastasia and films released by Walt Disney Feature Animation, noting similarities in their story and animation styles. Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle awarded the film three out of five stars. Likening its quality to that of a Disney animated film, Baumgarten wrote, "Anastasia...may not beat Disney at its own game, but it sure won't be for lack of trying." Baumgarten continued, "[t]his sumptuous-looking film clearly spared no expense in its visual rendering; its optical flourishes and attention to detail aim for the Disney gold standard and, for the most part, come pretty darn close." The Phoenix's Jeffrey Gantz jokingly stated, "[i]f imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks at Disney should feel royally complimented by Twentieth Century Fox's new animated feature about Tsar Nicholas II's youngest daughter." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Fox's challenge to the Disney empire is a beautifully animated musical". However, Gleiberman continued, "Anastasia has the Disney house style down cold, yet the magic is missing."
Critical reception in Russia was also, for the most part, positive despite the artistic liberties that the film took with Russian history. Gemini Films, the Russian distributor of Anastasia, stressed the fact that the story was "not history", but rather "a fairy tale set against the background of real Russian events" in the film's Russian marketing campaign so that its Russian audience would not view Anastasia "as a historical film". As a result, many Russians praised the film for its art and storytelling and saw it as "not so much a piece of history but another Western import to be consumed and enjoyed".
Some Russian Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, found Anastasia to be an offensive depiction of the Grand Duchess, who was canonized as a new martyr in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and a passion bearer in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church. Many historians echoed their sentiments, criticizing the film as a "sanitized, sugar-coated reworking of the story of the [Tsar's] youngest daughter." While the filmmakers acknowledged the fact that "Anastasia uses history only as a starting point", others complained that the film would provide its audience with misleading facts about Russian history, which, according to the author and historian Suzanne Massie, "has been falsified for so many years." Similarly, the amateur historian Bob Atchison said that Anastasia was akin to someone making a film in which "Anne Frank moves to Orlando and opens a crocodile farm with a guy named Mort."
Some of Anastasia's contemporary relatives also felt that the film was distasteful, but most Romanovs have come to accept the "repeated exploitation of Anastasia's romantic tale ... with equanimity."
A limited release of Anastasia at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on the weekend of November 14, 1997 grossed $120,541. The following week, the wide release of Anastasia in the United States made $14,104,933 (for an average of about $5,692 from 2,478 theaters), which placed it as the #2 film for the weekend of November 21–23, 1997. By the end of its theatrical run, Anastasia had grossed $58,406,347 in the North American box office and $81,398,001 internationally. The worldwide gross totaled $139,804,348, making it Don Bluth's highest-grossing film to date.
In 1999 a direct-to-video spin-off called Bartok the Magnificent was released which focused on the character of Bartok.
Anastasia received the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Family Film and was nominated for 7 others, including two Academy Awards in the categories of "Best Original Musical or Comedy Score" (lost to The Full Monty) and "Best Original Song" for "Journey to the Past" (lost to My Heart Will Go On from Titanic). The R&B singer Aaliyah performed her pop single version of "Journey to the Past" at the 70th Academy Awards.
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