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|
|Box office||$139.8 million|
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 adaptation of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia, which claims that she in fact escaped 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 lavish ball at the winter Catherine Palace to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial ("Prologue"). His mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, is visiting from Paris and gives an elaborate music box with a matching necklace engraved with the words “Together in Paris” as parting gifts to her youngest granddaughter, eight-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia. The winter ball is suddenly interrupted by the dark sorcerer Grigori Rasputin, formerly the royal advisor of the Romanovs until he was banished by the Czar for treason. As revenge, 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. A fortnight later, the royal family is executed by an angry mob, and 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 sleeping chamber. As they flee for their lives across a frozen river, Rasputin confronts the two royals outside in the snow to stop them, only to fall through the ice and freeze to death. The pair manage to reach a moving train headed to Paris, but only Marie climbs aboard while Anastasia attempts to join her but falls, hitting her head on the platform, knocking her unconscious and causing a severe case of amnesia.
Ten years later, Russia is under communist rule, yet it is rumored that the princess Anastasia is still alive ("Rumor In St. Petersburg"). And Marie has publicly offered 10 million rubles for the safe return of her granddaughter. Thus, two con men in Saint Petersburg, Dimitri and his friend and partner in crime Vladimir, search for a look-alike to bring to Paris and pass off as Anastasia so as to collect the reward from Marie. Elsewhere, Anastasia, now a young woman called "Anya", leaves the rural orphanage where she grew up, having lost her memory prior to arriving. She is sent to work at a fish factory but her necklace that she has had ever since she can remember which reads "Together in Paris", inspires her to go to Paris instead ("Journey to the Past"). After adopting a stray puppy she nicknames "Pooka", an old peasant woman on the snowy street advises Anya to go to the deserted palace that has been long abandoned since the Czars' demise ("Once Upon A December"). Here, she encounters Dimitri and Vladimir who are both impressed by her striking resemblance to the "real" Anastasia and decide to take her with them to use as a pawn in their scheme.
Bartok, Rasputin's witty and albino pet bat, is nearby and notices his master's dormant reliquary has been suddenly revived by Anastasia's presence; it drags him right into the underworld, where the soul of Rasputin dwells. Enraged to hear that Anastasia has survived, he realizes that the curse is far from fulfilled, explaining why he is unable to leave his state of limbo. To finish what he had started the day before, Rasputin sends an angry mob of demonic spirits from the reliquary to kill her once and for all ("In the Dark of the Night"). Despite two evil attempts, the trio manage to (unwittingly) foil him, forcing Rasputin and Bartok to travel back to the surface.
Anya, 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 assistant and cousin—quizzes Anya with questions only Anastasia would know to confirm her identity. Dimitri and Vladimir had taught Anya the answers (Learn to Do It), all except how she survived. When asked how she escaped, Anya independently (though vaguely) recalls how Dimitri showed her the secret passageway. Dimitri immediately realizes that she is the real "Grand Duchess" who he once helped. He later informs Vladimir at the Russian Ballet that they have indeed found the long lost heir of imperial Russia. Dimitri, however, insists they do not reveal this truth to Anastasia. Sophie, convinced as well, arranges for Anastasia to meet Marie after the ballet performance ("Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart"). 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 as part of his con to get Marie's fortune, she confronts him for lying to her from the beginning before slapping him across the face and runs off. Dimitri, having fallen in love with Anastasia, has a change of heart and manages to change Marie's mind by presenting her with Anastasia's music box, which he had found in the winter palace. Anastasia's memory returns upon meeting Marie, and grandmother and granddaughter are reunited at long last and tearfully embrace each other in a joyful reunion.
The next day, Marie offers Dimitri the reward money, but to her surprise he refuses to take it and leaves for Russia, convinced that he cannot be with Anastasia due to her social standing. That night, Marie holds a ball to reintroduce Anastasia to high society and informs her of Dimitri's gesture and leaves her to her thoughts. While looking for Pooka who has run off, Anastasia wanders through a garden maze and onto the Pont Alexandre III, where she is trapped and attacked by Rasputin who tries to kill her to fulfill the curse. Suddenly, Dimitri returns to defend Anastasia, but is injured in the fight and is knocked unconscious. After a chaotic battle, Anastasia manages to defeat Rasputin once and for all, by crushing the reliquary under her foot, avenging her family. With Rasputin's soul having been tied to the reliquary, he disintegrates to orange dust and dies.
Afterwards, Dimitri and Anastasia romantically reconcile and decide to elope to begin a new life together. Anastasia sends a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie, promising to return one day. The couple finally kiss under the Paris moon on a riverboat ("Finale"). The film ends with Bartok who shares a kiss with a female albino bat and says "so long everybody" to the audience.
- Kirsten Dunst (young) and Meg Ryan (adult) as Princess 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 "Comrade" 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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