Anastasia (1997 film)

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Anastasia
Anastasia-don-bluth.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay by
Story byEric Tuchman[a]
Based onAnastasia
by Arthur Laurents
Anastasia
by Marcelle Maurette
Produced by
  • Don Bluth
  • Gary Goldman
Starring
Edited by
Music byDavid Newman
Production
companies
Distributed by20th Century Fox[2]
Release dates
  • November 14, 1997 (1997-11-14) (New York City premiere)
  • November 21, 1997 (1997-11-21) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes[4]
CountryUnited States[2]
LanguageEnglish
Budget$53 million[5][6]
Box office$140 million[7]

Anastasia is a 1997 American animated musical historical drama film produced by Fox Animation Studios and distributed by 20th Century Fox. Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman; it stars Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury.[8] Based on the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia, the film follows an eighteen-year-old amnesiac Anastasia "Anya" Romanov who, hoping to find some trace of her deceased family, sides with two con men who wish to pass her off as the Grand Duchess to dowager empress Maria Feodorovna; thus the film shares its plot with Fox's prior film from 1956, which, in turn, was based on the 1954 play of the same name by Marcelle Maurette. Unlike those treatments, this version adds a magically empowered Grigori Rasputin as the main antagonist.

Anastasia premiered in New York City on November 14, 1997, and was released theatrically in the United States on November 21. Critics praised the animation, voice performances, and soundtrack, though it attracted criticism from some historians for its fantastical retelling of the Grand Duchess. Anastasia grossed $140 million worldwide, making it the most profitable film from Bluth and Fox Animation Studios. It received nominations for several awards, including for Best Original Song ("Journey to the Past") and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score at the 70th Academy Awards. The success of Anastasia spawned various adaptations of the film into other media, including a direct-to-video spin-off film, a computer game,[9] books, toys and a stage musical, which premiered in 2016.[10][11]

Due to the creation of Fox Animation Studios, Anastasia was the first 20th Century Fox animated feature to be produced by its own animation division 20th Century Fox Animation. Many people mistakenly consider Anastasia to be a Disney Princess. The acquisition of 20th Century Fox by The Walt Disney Company and the inclusion of the film on the streaming service Disney+ created more confusion. Despite this, the character is not considered by Disney itself an official Disney Princess or character, and nothing related to the film is presented in any Disney Parks or events.[12][13][14][15][16][17]

Plot[edit]

In 1916 Petrograd, Russia, at a ball celebrating the Romanov tricentennial, Dowager Empress Marie bestows 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 and former royal adviser exiled for treason, who vows to Tsar Nicholas that his family will be banished with a curse. Consumed by his hatred for the Romanovs, Rasputin sells his soul in exchange for a power upgrade to his unholy reliquary, which he uses to spark the Russian Revolution. As revolutionaries besiege the palace, Marie and Anastasia escape through a secret passageway, aided by 10-year-old servant boy Dimitri. Rasputin confronts the two royals outside on the frozen Little Nevka River, only to fall through the ice and drown. The pair manage to reach a moving train, but as Marie climbs aboard, Anastasia falls and hits her head on the platform, subsequently developing amnesia.

Ten years later, Russia is under communist rule and Marie has publicly offered 10 million roubles for the safe return of her granddaughter. Now working as a conman, a grown Dimitri and his partner-in-crime Vlad Vasilovich search for an Anastasia look-alike to bring to Paris so they can collect the reward. Elsewhere, an 18-year-old Anastasia (now called "Anya") leaves the rural orphanage where she grew up, and begins a search for her family with her necklace as the only clue she has to finding them. Accompanied by a stray puppy she names Pooka, she decides to head to Paris, inspired by the inscription on her necklace, but finds herself unable to leave the Soviet Union without an exit visa. An old woman advises her to see Dimitri at the abandoned palace. There, the two men are impressed by Anya's resemblance to the "real" Anastasia, and decide to take her with them to Paris, completely unaware of her identity.

Watching the meeting from his perch, Rasputin's albino bat minion Bartok notices his master's dormant reliquary suddenly revived by Anya's presence. It drags him down to limbo, where he finds an undead Rasputin confined. Enraged to hear that Anastasia escaped the curse, Rasputin sends his demonic minions from the reliquary to kill her. The demons sabotage the trio's train by overheating the engine and separating it and its ruined baggage car from the rest of the train as they leave Leningrad, but the trio manages to escape before the burning locomotive and baggage car fall through a broken bridge and explode on the ground below.

Later, the demons try to lure Anya into sleepwalking off their ship to France. The trio unwittingly foil both attempts, forcing Rasputin and Bartok to travel back to the surface to kill Anya personally. During their journey, as Dimitri and Vladimir teach Anya court etiquette and her family's history, Dimitri and Anya begin to fall in love. The trio eventually reach Paris and go to see Marie, who has given up the search after meeting numerous impostors. Despite this, Marie's cousin Sophie quizzes Anya to confirm her identity. Though Anya offers every answer taught to her, Dimitri finally realizes she is the real Anastasia when she (without being taught) vaguely recalls how he helped her escape the palace siege. Sophie, also convinced, arranges a meeting with Marie at the Palais Garnier.

There, Dimitri tries to establish an introduction but Marie refuses, believing Anya will be another imposter and has already heard of Dimitri's initial scheme to con her. Anya overhears the conversation and angrily leaves. Dimitri later abducts Marie in her car to force her to see Anya, finally convincing her when he presents the music box Anastasia dropped during their escape. As Marie and Anya converse, Anya regains her memories, and the two sing the lullaby the music box plays, a secret only the two of them knew. Marie recognizes Anya as Anastasia, and the two are joyfully reunited.

Marie offers Dimitri the reward money the next day, recognizing him as the servant boy who saved them, but he declines it and leaves to return to the Soviet Union. At her return celebration, Anastasia is informed by her grandmother of Dimitri's gesture, leaving her torn between staying or going with him. She walks off to the Pont Alexandre III, where Rasputin traps and attacks her. Dimitri returns to save her, but is attacked by a Black Pegasus statue enchanted by Rasputin. In the struggle, Anastasia manages to get hold of Rasputin's reliquary and crushes it under her foot, avenging her family as Rasputin's demons turn on him and destroy him, thus ending the Romanov curse.

Anastasia and Dmitri elope, and Anastasia sends a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie promising to return one day. Bartok is shown with a lady bat.

Voice cast[edit]

Victoria Clark, Billy Porter, Patrick Quinn, J.K. Simmons, and Lillias White were among the ensemble and character voices.

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

In May 1994, the Los Angeles Times reported that Don Bluth and Gary Goldman had signed a long-term deal to produce animated features with 20th Century Fox with the studio channeling more than $100 million in constructing the animation studio.[19] They selected Phoenix, Arizona, for the location of the new animation studio because the state offered the company about $1 million in job training funds and low-interest loans for the state-of-the-art digital animation equipment,[20] with a staff of 300 artists and technicians, a third of whom worked with Bluth and Goldman in Dublin, Ireland, for Sullivan Bluth Studios.[21] For their first project, the studio insisted they select one out of a dozen existing properties which they owned where Bluth and Goldman suggested adapting The King and I and My Fair Lady,[22] though Bluth and Goldman felt it would be impossible to improve on Audrey Hepburn's performance and Lerner and Loewe's score. Following several story suggestions, the idea to adapt Anastasia originated from Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill Mechanic. They would later adapt story elements from Pygmalion with the peasant Anya being molded into a regal woman.[23] The budget was $53 million.[6][5]

Early into production, Bluth and Goldman began researching the actual events through enlisting former CIA agents stationed in Moscow and St. Petersburg.[24] Around this same time, screenwriter Eric Tuchman had written a script. Eventually, Bluth and Goldman decided the history of Anastasia and the Romanov dynasty was too dark for their film.[23] In 1995, Graham and Susan Gauthier reworked Tuchman's script into a light-hearted romantic comedy. When Graham and Gauthier moved onto other projects, the husband-and-wife screenwriting team Bob Tzudiker and Noni White were hired for additional rewrites.[25] Actress Carrie Fisher also made uncredited rewrites of the film, particularly the scene in which Anya leaves the orphanage for Paris.[26]

For the villains, Bluth also did not take into consideration depicting Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and initially toyed with the idea of a police chief with a vendetta against Anastasia. Instead, they decided to have Grigori Rasputin as the villain with Goldman explaining it was because of "all the different things they did to try to destroy Rasputin and what a horrible man he really was, the more it seemed appetizing to make him the villain".[24] In reality, Rasputin was already dead when the Romanovs were assassinated. In addition to this, Bluth created the idea for Bartok, the albino bat, as a sidekick for Rasputin: "I just thought the villain had to have a comic sidekick, just to let everyone know that it was all right to laugh. A bat seemed a natural friend for Rasputin. Making him a white bat came later – just to make him different".[27] Composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens recalled being at Au Bon Pain in New York City where Rasputin and Bartok were pitched, and being dismayed at the decision to go down a historically inaccurate route; they made their stage musical adaption "more sophisticated, more far-reaching, more political" to encompass their original vision.[28]

Casting[edit]

Bluth stated that Meg Ryan was his first and only choice for the title character. However, Ryan was indecisive about accepting the role due to its dark historical events.[29] To persuade her, the animation team took an audio clip of Annie Reed from Sleepless in Seattle and created an animation reel based on it which was screened for her following an invitation to the studio. Ryan later accepted the role; in her words "I was blown away that they did that".[30] Before Ryan was cast, Broadway singer and actress Liz Callaway was brought in to record several demos of the songs hoping to land a job in background vocals, but the demos were liked well enough by songwriters that they were ultimately used in the final film.[31] John Cusack openly admitted after being cast that he couldn't sing;[32] his singing duties were performed by Jonathan Dokuchitz.[33] Goldman had commented that originally, as with the rest of the cast, they were going to have Ryan record her lines separately from the others, with Bluth reading the lines of the other characters to her. However, after Ryan and the directors were finding the method to be too challenging when her character was paired with Dimitri, she and Cusack recorded the dialogue of their characters together, with Goldman noting "it made a huge difference".[24]

Peter O'Toole was considered for the role of Rasputin, but Christopher Lloyd was hired because of his popularity from the Back to the Future trilogy. Bartok was initially written for Woody Allen, but the studio was reluctant to hire him following revelations of his relationship with his ex-partner Mia Farrow's adoptive daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Martin Short was also considered, but Hank Azaria won the role ten minutes into his audition.[24][25]

Musical score and soundtrack album[edit]

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.[34] 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.[35] The first song they wrote for the project was "Once Upon a December"; it was written during a heatwave "so [they were] sweating and writing winter imagery".[28] The film's soundtrack was released in CD and audio cassette format on October 28, 1997.[36]

Release[edit]

20th Century Fox scheduled for Anastasia to be released on November 21, 1997, notably a week after the re-release of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Disney claimed it had long-planned for the re-release to coincide with a consumer products campaign leading into Christmas and the film's home video release in March 1998, as well continue the tradition of re-releasing their animated films within a seven-to-eight year interval.[37] In addition to this, Disney would release several competing family films including Flubber on the following weekend, as well as a double feature of George of the Jungle and Hercules.[37] To avoid branding confusion, Disney banned television advertisements for Anastasia from being aired on the ABC program The Wonderful World of Disney.[38]

Commenting on the studios' fierce competition, Disney spokesman John Dreyer brushed off allegations of studio rivalry, claiming: "We always re-release our movies around holiday periods". However, Fox executives refused to believe Dreyer's statement with Bill Mechanic responding that "it's a deliberate attempt to be a bully, to kick sand in our face. They can't be trying to maximize their own business; the amount they're spending on advertising is ridiculous... It's a concentrated effort to keep our film from fulfilling its potential".[39]

Marketing[edit]

Anastasia was accompanied with a marketing campaign at more than $50 million with promotional sponsors from Burger King, Dole Food Company, Hershey, Chesebrough-Ponds, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Shell Oil, and the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Overall, the marketing costs exceeded that of Independence Day by more than 35 percent.[40] For merchandising, Fox selected Galoob to license dolls based on Anastasia.[39] Many storybooks adapted from the film were released by Little Golden Books. In August 1997, the SeaWorld theme parks in San Diego and Orlando featured a 40-foot-long, 20-foot-high inflatable playground for children called "Anastasia's Kingdom".[41]

Home media[edit]

On April 28, 1998, and January 1, 1999, Anastasia was released on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD and sold eight million units.[42] The film was reissued on a two-disc "Family Fun Edition" DVD with the film in its original theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen format on March 16, 2006. The first disc featured an optional audio commentary from directors/writers Bluth and Goldman, and additional bonus material. The second included a making-of documentary, music video and making-of featurette of Aaliyah's "Journey to the Past", and additional bonus content.[43] The film was released on Blu-ray on March 22, 2011; this included Bartok the Magnificent in the special features.[44]

Streaming[edit]

Anastasia became available on December 4, 2020, on Disney+,[45][46] following Disney's acquisition of 20th Century Fox on March 20, 2019.[47] In the US it was removed from Disney+ on March 1, 2022, and transferred to Starz on March 18, 2022; contrary to popular belief, the film's disappearance bears no connection to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine (Disney had suspended theatrical releases in Russia such as the then-upcoming Turning Red, which led to confusion that Anastasia's withdrawal was related).[48][49]

Reception[edit]

Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 86% based on 56 reviews and an average rating of 7.11/10. 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".[50] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 61 out of 100 based on 19 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[51] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A-" on an A+ to F scale.[52]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, praising "the quality of the story" and writing the result as entertaining and sometimes exciting.[53] Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave Anastasia three stars, calling the lead character "pretty and charming" but criticized the film for a lack of historical accuracy.[54] Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote: "Though originality is not one of its accomplishments, Anastasia is generally pleasant, serviceable and eager to please. And any film that echoes the landscape of Doctor Zhivago is hard to dislike for too long."[55] Todd McCarthy of Variety noted the film was "dazzlingly colorful", but felt that "all the ingredients thrown into the pot don't congeal entirely congenially, and the artistic touch applied doesn't allow the whole to become more than the sum of its various, but invariably familiar, elements."[56] Margaret McGurk, reviewing for The Cincinnati Enquirer, described the film as "charming" and "entertaining", and calling Anastasia as a tasty tale about a fairy-tale princess.[57] Lisa Osbourne of Boxoffice called the film "pure family entertainment".[58] Awarding the film three out of five stars, Empire's Philip Thomas wrote that despite historical inaccuracies, Anastasia manages to be a charming little movie.[59]

Several critics have drawn positive comparisons between Anastasia and the Disney films released during the Disney Renaissance, 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 that Anastasia "may not beat Disney at its own game, but it sure won't be for lack of trying". Baumgarten continued that "[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".[60] 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".[61] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote that Fox has a beautifully animated musical that can challenge Disney's peer, but also said that Anastasia has inferior animation style compared to Disney's and lacks its magic.[62]

Russian critical response[edit]

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.[63] As a result, many Russians praised the film for its art and storytelling and saw it as not a piece of history but another Western import to be consumed and enjoyed.[63]

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.[64] Many historians echoed their sentiments, criticizing the film as a sanitized, sugar-coated reworking of the story of the Czar's youngest daughter.[65] 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.[66] 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".[66]

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".[66]

Box office[edit]

A limited release of Anastasia at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on the weekend of November 14, 1997, grossed $120,541.[67] The following weekend, the wide release of Anastasia in the United States earned $14.1 million, ranking second behind Mortal Kombat: Annihilation.[68][69] By the end of its theatrical run, Anastasia had grossed $58.4 million in the United States and Canada and $81.4 million internationally.[7] The worldwide gross totaled up to about $139.8 million, making it Don Bluth's highest-grossing film to date and beating out his next highest-grossing film, An American Tail, by about $55 million.[70] This was Don Bluth's first financially successful film since All Dogs Go to Heaven.

Accolades[edit]

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score and Best Original Song (for "Journey to the Past").[71][72] The R&B singer Aaliyah performed the pop version at the ceremony.[73]

List of awards and nominations
Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards Best Original Musical or Comedy Score Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens;
Orchestral Score by David Newman
Nominated [74]
Best Original Song "Journey to the Past"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Nominated
Annie Awards Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Theatrical Feature Nominated [75]
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production Don Bluth and Gary Goldman Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Producing in an Animated Feature Production Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature Production Animation Adaptation by Eric Tuchman;
Screenplay by Susan Gauthier, Bruce Graham,
Bob Tzudiker, and Noni White
Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Effects Animation Peter Matheson Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature Production Songs by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens;
Score by David Newman
Nominated
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Male Performer in an Animated Feature Production Hank Azaria Won
Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Feature Production Angela Lansbury Nominated
Meg Ryan Nominated
Artios Awards Best Casting for Animated Voice-Over Brian Chavanne Won [76]
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards Most Performed Songs from Motion Pictures "At the Beginning"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Won
Awards Circuit Community Awards Best Animated Feature Nominated
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Animated Family Movie Nominated [77]
Critics' Choice Awards Best Family Film Won [78]
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards Best Animated Film Won
Golden Globe Awards Best Original Song – Motion Picture "Journey to the Past"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Nominated [79]
"Once Upon a December"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Nominated
Golden Reel Awards Best Sound Editing – Animated Feature Nominated
Best Sound Editing – Music Animation Brent Brooks and Tom Villano Won
Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards Best Animated Film Won [80]
Online Film & Television Association Awards Best Animated Picture Don Bluth and Gary Goldman Won [81]
Best Comedy/Musical Score Stephen Flaherty, Lynn Ahrens, and David Newman Nominated
Best Original Song "Once Upon a December"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Nominated
Best Voice-Over Performance Hank Azaria Nominated
Angela Lansbury Nominated
Meg Ryan Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Motion Picture – Animated or Mixed Media Film Nominated [82]
Best Original Score David Newman Nominated
Best Original Song "Journey to the Past"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Nominated
"Once Upon a December"
Music by Stephen Flaherty;
Lyrics by Lynn Ahrens
Nominated
Young Artist Awards Best Family Feature Film – Animation Won [83]

Adaptations[edit]

Ice Follies[edit]

Anastasia On Ice was a licensed adaptation produced by Feld Entertainment's Ice Follies that ran from at least 1998 to 1999.[84][85]

Spin-off prequel[edit]

In 1999 a direct-to-video spin-off and prequel called Bartok the Magnificent was released which focused on the character of Bartok.[86]

Stage musical adaptation[edit]

In April 2015, Hartford Stage planned to premiere a new stage production of Anastasia, with the book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and directed by Darko Tresnjak.[87] The production ran from May 13 through June 19, 2016.[88]

It is an original new musical combining both the 1956 Fox film and the 1997 animated film. According to Tresnjak, the musical features six songs from the animated film and additionally includes 16 new songs. Additionally, there have been some newly rewritten characters including Checkist secret police officer Gleb Vaganov (in the place of Rasputin), and Lily, who has been renamed in the place of Sophie.[89] McNally said: "This is a stage version for a modern theatre audience... The libretto's 'a blend' of old and new... There are characters in the musical that appear in neither the cartoon nor the Ingrid Bergman version".[90]

The Hartford production featured Christy Altomare as Anastasia / Anya, Derek Klena as Dimitri, Mary Beth Peil as The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Manoel Felciano as Gleb Vaganov, John Bolton as Vladimir, Caroline O'Connor as Lily, and Nicole Scimeca as Young Anastasia.[91] The musical transferred to Broadway with much of the original Hartford cast, opening on April 24, 2017, at the Broadhurst Theater[92] to mixed reviews.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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