Tuesday, January 29, 2013

#98: Anastasia (1997)

Code-name: Bartok

Director: Don Bluth
Type: Animated/Musical

Anya- Meg Ryan
-singing voice- Liz Callaway
Dimitri- John Cusack
Vladamir- Kelsey Grammer
Rasputin- Christopher Lloyd
-singing voice- Jim Cummings
Bartok- Hank Azaria
Sophie- Bernadette Peters
Dowager Empress- Angela Lansbury

Nostalgia-Meter Rating (out of 3): 1
translation: we don't go back that far, but I couldn't not include it on my list

Notable Nominations:
Oscar & Golden Globe for Best Original Score
Oscar & Golden Globe for Best Original Song ("Journey to the Past")

Remake Alert:
There was a film released in 1956 of the same name shot in live-action.
I have never seen it and had only heard of it recently (amidst my additional research).

Note: Saw it in the theater when it came out


For the longest time, I was only interested in watching animation. I didn't check into any live action movies or TV shows until I was maybe 10 or 11 (after which, I checked into all of the TGIF line-up at different points... I think the first non-animated series I checked into was "Friends.").
So it's natural that the first time I experienced a number of my favorite actors was when they did their designated voiceover work. And therefore, there were a number of names I never forgot.

Meg Ryan and Christopher Lloyd were the only two I'd known of before this movie and have seen their perspective films. With him, I'd gotten to know him and enjoy him on "Back to the Future."
There were a number of movies my mom suggested I watch, saying that "it's cute, you'll love it" and in almost every case, she has been right. A couple of those chick flicks were Meg Ryan movies, but the only one I saw for a while was "You've got mail." (I have yet to see "Sleepless in Seattle" and "When Harry Met Sally"... the quintessential Meg Ryan films, yes I am working on that!). So I know well who she was and I'm guessing that they wanted her to star as the title character because she was "in" at Hollywood around that time.

John Cusack, I didn't figure out (rather, remember) until recently why that name always stuck in my head somewhere. After seeing him play Dimitri, playing this scoundrel of a con man so well, I wanted to keep an eye out to see the face that matched the voice.
Kelsey Grammer, I'd known primarily as Frasier, but I didn't watch it until my sister saw it in syndication... ah, the power of a Jack Russell Terrier
Bernadette Peters, I remember now this was the first time I saw her in anything, but I'd always been fond of her... something about that voice and that demeanor, I always adored and still do to this day

So it goes without saying this is an amazing cast.

The animation is really impressive even though in hind sight, a lot of people use it to call this movie a "Disney rip-off"... between the degree of animation and the fact it was chock full of musical numbers.
Depending on how they're used, musical components in animated films can be great or they could take away from it. Particularly with sequels released through Universal Studios, I often ask if the songs are needed in the plot at all.
In "Anastasia," it's somewhat of a toss-up. There are one too many songs put together in certain sequences, but the degree of songwriting is great. "Once Upon a December" is still my favorite, although Rasputin's villain song "In the Dark of the Night" is great in how it contrasts the overall scheme of things... as if we have a rock concert thrown in the middle of the fluff and the cheese.

I own the soundtrack, but I mainly got it for the duet featured in the credits. I suppose you could call it a love song that's thrown in because it's a mandatory component.
Richard Marx and Donna Lewis have some great harmonies and for their respected works (although I get the feeling that she only has the hit "I will always love you forever"- one of my favorite one-hit wonders). You really can't go wrong with Richard Marx no matter what he does... never fails to make me warm and fuzzy (and occasionally shed a tear).

The story itself, it's predictable and cheesy, as I've said. There's a great mix of comedy, funny lines (Bartok steals the show on a few occasions, which might explain how he got his own sequel... never saw it so I can't say if it's any good), has a few scary moments (although not as terrifying as some of the stuff Don Bluth has done over the years), action, and everything in between.

The only flaw it might have, other than the excessive music numbers, is that it's a more than slightly exaggerated take on real events.

There WAS a rumor [in St. Petersburg] that the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II survived the siege of the Winter Palace during the Russian Revolution in 1917. According to IMDB, there was an actual music box that belonged to Anastasia. The story of the drawing Anastasia gave her Grandmother was true, how her sister said it looked like a pig riding a donkey. There was even a Dimitri who claimed one certain girl was Anastasia, whom he had met once, but there wasn't enough evidence to back his claim.

A few facts were flipped around to suit the plot. Like how Rasputin cursed the Romanov family and used powers he got from the Netherworld to spark a revolt (in real life, it was the Communist Party that destroyed the royal family). And we had the obligatory love story and the reunion between Anastasia and the Dowager Empress.

But then again, do we really watch these animated bits of historical fiction for historical accuracy?
Otherwise I'd find Pocahontas, Hercules and Mulan very off-putting.

What all these movies have in common:
other than Disney affiliations and, like I said, based on historical events,
they were reviewed by Internet Personality Nostalgia Chick who mocked them for their inaccuracies... and they feature strong female protagonists


Anya is great, gets that spunk from Meg Ryan, but there are stronger ones that I'll probably cover further down the line, whether it's on this countdown or on a future post off it.

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