Critical reception for "Journey to the Past" has been generally mixed to positive. Erin McCarty of Epinions praised the original Liz Callaway version of the song, saying Callaway "voices Anastasia with a clear-throated exuberance and beauty that reminds me of Jodi Benson from The Little Mermaid." Her review of Aaliyah's pop rendition of the song was more mixed: "...as is almost always the case with these animated musicals that produce radio hits, I prefer the in-movie version." Stephen Thomas Erlewine of Allmusic gave a somewhat positive review of Aaliyah's rendition, calling it a good version of a song that sounds better in its original form.Filmtracks called Callaway's version of the song "attractive".
The music video begins in a modern-day American neighborhood on a seemingly warm day. Aaliyah is seen singing in the windows of a small grocery store and on the street where children are playing. Tying in to the theme of going back to the past, Aaliyah goes back and forth from the real modern-day world to the animated world of Russia in the 1920s, the time in which Anastasia is set. She is then seen in several of the movie's iconic scenes such as balancing on a log with Anastasia behind her, out in the snow where the "Journey to the Past" song is featured in the film, in the ballroom in the "Once Upon a December" sequence, ascending the lift in the Eiffel Tower (the "Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)" scene) and on stage in the Russian ballet scene. The fountains of Jardins du Trocadéro can be seen briefly. The music video ends with her sitting on the rooftop seemingly overlooking the final scene in which Dimitri and Anya kiss and finally on the clouds above St. Petersburg with the children.
^Erin McCarty. "The Anastasia Soundtrack". Retrieved 19 August 2012. "I love this song, and as is almost always the case with these animated musicals that produce radio hits, I prefer the in-movie version. There’s such an air of wonder and anticipation, as well as trepidation, about it, and I can relate so well to that tug-of-war between a longing for adventure and a fear of leaving the familiar. The song reminds me a lot of I Have Confidence from The Sound of Music, and it’s one of my two favorites in the movie. The piano and violins evoke the snowflakes and wind that accompany her as she sets out. Liz Callaway, singing in place of Meg Ryan, voices Anastasia with a clear-throated exuberance and beauty that reminds me of Jodi Benson from The Little Mermaid."
^Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "Anastasia - Original Soundtrack". Retrieved 19 August 2012. "In this case, it's Aaliyah singing "Journey to the Past," and Deana Carter's cover of "Once Upon a December," and the Donna Lewis and Richard Marx duet on "At the Beginning" -- fine versions of fine songs that sound better in their original incarnation (also included on the disc)"
^"Anastasia (Stephen Flaherty/David Newman)". Retrieved 19 August 2012. "The songs "Journey to the Past" and "Once Upon a December" both feature the vocals of Liz Callaway, and their appeal as the "leading lady's songs" are equally attractive"