Anastasia is the only film on my list made by maverick animator Don Bluth because it is the one that comes closest not only to being a Disney movie but also to being of Broadway play quality. I can appreciate The Secret of NIMH, All Dogs Go to Heaven, and The Land Before Time, but they frequently waver between being too childish to too dark for their own good. An American Tail came closest to earning a spot on my list, mainly for its music, though I do also fondly remember The Pebble and the Penguin from my childhood.
Anastasia does have the Don Bluth touch, mainly in the way it presents some dark elements. Rasputin’s selling his soul (assumedly to the devil) and his demonic minions is as troubling as Dr. Facilier’s voodoo conjuring in The Princess and the Frog, and my mom was understandably uncomfortable in letting me see the end at such a young age. Anastasia is one of a group of very different films that stick out in my mind as sharing a traumatic climax in which the villain is graphically evaporated. Quest for Camelot and The Black Cauldron didn’t make it to my list either, but Anastasia has many other factors that make it list-worthy, even though its villain death is perhaps the worst.
The animation is gorgeous. While Bluth’s films don’t always excel at certain aspects, like the fluidity of human faces, the character designs and backgrounds are excellently rendered. The scenes of the royal palace are particularly impressive, as is the exciting train crash sequence. The music is also marvelous and quite underrated, I’d say. It starts off with an initial city-spanning showstopper akin to “Belle” from Beauty and the Beast; later is Rasputin’s surprisingly malevolent but catchy villain song “In the Dark of the Night,” reminiscent of Scar’s “Be Prepared”; and the best of them all is the haunting “Once upon a December,” which has the immersive, spellbinding melody of something from The Hunchback of Notre Dame. All in all, it excels as a musical, and the songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (Seussical) match even Alan Menken’s output.
The voices are also extensive and well-cast, featuring Meg Ryan as Anastasia, John Cusack as Dimitri, Kelsey Grammer as Vlad, Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin, Hank Azaria as Bartok the bat (whose voice makes everything he says funny), and Angela Lansbury as the Empress/Grandmama. Anastasia herself is a great character who I think deserves inclusion among the popular animated princesses.
I don’t care for some of Bluth’s darker inclusions, such as the sometimes nasty instances of Rasputin’s body parts falling off, but this is still the closest he came to a Disney-style movie. Anastasia is a fine film that remains as good as I remember it as a child.
Best line: (Anya, after waking up suddenly and hitting Dimitri) “Oh, sorry. I thought you were someone else—oh, it’s you. Well, that’s okay, then.”Artistry: 7 Characters/Actors: 7 Entertainment: 8 Visual Effects: 9 Originality: 6 Watchability: 8 Other (dark elements): -5 TOTAL: 40 out of 60
Next: #212 – The Elephant Man
© 2014 S. G. Liput
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