Don Bluth is well known for his work in the field of animation. He has brought to life classics of the animation Rennaissance of the 1990s, such as The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go To Heaven, An American Tail and, in the case of today’s topic, Anastasia, a 2D animated piece of often overlooked cinema that turns 25 this year. Set in the backdrop of an early 1900s Russia, a young amnesiac girl is thrust suddenly into a power struggle that brings her to Paris with two con men. In this way, Anastasia is a magical retelling of the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia, with a sorcerer villain, named and intended to be, a version of Rasputin. Is Anastasia the movie that I remember it to be? Let’s dive in.
I was first introduced to this animated film a few years after release, when I realised that it features a character that I had a toy of for many years prior, Bartok, the small, white, bat creature that serves as the films comic relief, is an anthropomorphic sidekick to the villain: an Iago of sorts, if compared to the parrot from Aladdin.
The first criticism that many people give this film is the historical inaccuracies portrayed throughout in relation to the Romanov family. Although, this may be the case, the film never feels like it is trying to be purely a historical fiction, but rather an answer to Disney at the time: a thematic study about being there for your friends, and the dangers of using others for personal gain. It is a sweet movie that does its best to steer the story in a thoughtful direction. The voice acting of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer and Christopher Lloyd elevate the animated performances, and we can really feel these characters come alive in their interactions with one another. The staging is beautiful and, in many ways, captures a sense of wonder that is often lost in modern animation.
Although the plot feels too thin for its runtime, we are treated to gorgeous character designs and musical numbers that capture the time period and thematic backdrop as well as give us a Disney-esque quality that manages to take us from scene to scene, never feeling forced. It is really fun overall, but if I was to have any gripe against it, is that some elements of plot and scenes seem unnecessarily added for the sole purpose of giving a padded Disney feel. This feels extra pointed, knowing that Don Bluth created this more or less as a response to the popularity of Disney.
It may well be the case that it was created as a response to the success rather than as a means to show something new. Yet, it does feel new. The fluidity of the animation feels like something we haven’t seen before, despite the obvious tropes of Disney style villain, romantic love interest and comedic animal character. It feels fresh, and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it is the charm of the characters, or the angle in which it takes its source material, but there is something here.
Anastasia may be a film that isn’t at the top of everyone’s animated movie go to lists, but there is the essence of something stunning visually, and it does something that an animated film should make you do: escape from reality. There is a strong message tied to it, and in this case, I can’t fault it. I wish in the 25 years since its release, that more people had come across it, and hopefully in the next 25 years, people will, and they’ll realise what a marvellous treat this is.