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The only surviving child of the Russian Royal Family hooks up with two con men while the undead Rasputin seeks her death.
For more about Anastasia and the Anastasia Blu-ray release, see Anastasia Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on March 23, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters
Directors: Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
» See full cast & crew
Anastasia Blu-ray Review
Fox takes on the Mouse.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, March 23, 2011
When animators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman left Disney in 1979—frustrated with the work environment and disillusioned with the House of Mouse's less-than-stellar recent output—the two were quickly dubbed "the Disney Defectors." And yet, this ultimately proved to be an extremely good thing for the animation industry. Bluth and Goldman formed their own independent studio and released a series of films that have become animation classics in their own right—The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, The Land Before Time, All Dogs Go to Heaven—and also served to help spur Disney back to greatness. After all, there's nothing like healthy competition to break up creative complacency. In the mid-1990s, Bluth and Goldman joined forces with 20th Century Fox to establish Fox Animation Studios, an attempt at directly take on Disney's megalithic box- office dominance. Their first project was Anastasia, an extremely loose reworking of the historical legend that suggests that the youngest daughter of Russia's ruling Romanov family survived the mass execution of 1916. The film is very much in the "Disney Princess" style—to the point of seeming derivative—and although it follows Uncle Walt's playbook to the letter, it ultimately lacks that distinct Mouse magic.
If you've never seen the film, let's clear one thing up immediately: Anastasia is in no way, shape, or form historically accurate. Certain critics, at the time of the movie's theatrical release, brought this up disparagingly, but they seem to have missed the point. Anastasia is a fairytale fantasy, pure and simple, albeit one that uses history as a starting point. The film begins in 1916, when the mad monk Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), who had previously been banished from Tsar Nicholas' court, interrupts a celebration for Russian aristocrats and places a curse on the royal family. The curse is given as the cause of the Russian Revolution—already we've left reality behind—and in the ensuing madness, only the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna (Angela Lansbury) and her granddaughter Anastasia escape. Marie jumps aboard a train for Paris at the last possible moment, but Anastasia slips, cracks her head, and gets left behind.
From here, the film jumps forward ten years. Anastasia, now going by Anya—and voiced by Meg Ryan—has been raised in an orphanage and has little memory of her royal past. (Bump on the noggin equals amnesia, natch.) The one thing she knows—thanks to her heirloom necklace—is that she needs to go to Paris to track down her real family. Money is short, however, and thanks to the Revolution, travel papers are hard to come by. Cue Dimitri (John Cusack), a two-bit conman who has taken up a squatter's residence in the old palace with his friend and fellow grifter, Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer). Their current scam is a doozy; they plan to find a girl who looks exactly like Anastasia, present her to the Dowager Empress in Paris, and collect a fat, 10-million ruble reward for their troubles. When their paths cross with Anya, they have no idea they've found the real princess—and neither does Anya. But, of course, memory is a funny thing, and as Dimitri plays Henry Higgins to Anya's Eliza Doolittle— training her how to be a proper lady so she'll pass as the princess—both come to realize long-buried truths about themselves.
The film seems, at times, like a hodgepodge amalgam of plot points and characters from several Disney Princess movies. You may notice certain ingredients from an effective but all-too familiar formula:
Ingredient #1: The spunky heroine who has been denied her rightful place in life. Meg Ryan's Anya is as independent and no-nonsense as they come, and though she claims to only see a "skinny little nobody, with no past and no future" when she looks in the mirror, she's determined to find out who she really is. I like her arc here, as a character, with one exception—Anya's sass-factor is off the charts, which does make her a little less relatable.
Ingredient #2: The villain imbued with mystical powers who keeps watch over the heroine's comings and goings through some magical portal. You really can't ask for a villain more frightening and dastardly than Rasputin, one of those rare real-life figures who seems culled entirely from legend. Or nightmare. Unfortunately, the film squanders the character—wastes his potential for menace—by turning him into a laughable threat who serves little purpose in the story. Although he peers into a glass talisman that looks conspicuously like a bong, and while he has the power to summon phosphorescent demon bats from the netherworld, Rasputin is far more goofy than ghastly. I'd even argue that you could exorcise him from the story completely with little adverse effect. He feels like he's here only because we expect all princess movies to have a supernatural baddie.
Ingredient #3: Sidekicks. Ah yes, the pet pals. In Anastasia there are two. Anya has Pooka, a thankfully mute puppy whose purpose is to charm us with his big baleful eyes. And he does. Not so successful is Rasputin's animal familiar, Bartok, an obnoxious bat—voiced by Hank Azaria—who, for some unfathomable reason, has a North Dakotan brogue, a la William H. Macy in Fargo. He is what you might call Anastasia's Jar-Jar Binks.
Ingredient #4: A story that covers all the bases. Action! Adventure! Peril! Romance! There are a few thrillingly staged action scenes in the film that are sure to set tiny hearts a'pounding, from a clever sleepwalking dream sequence on an ocean liner that has Anya in danger of going overboard—this reminded me of the big storm scene in An American Tail—to a climactic fight with Rasputin on a Parisian bridge. There's also a great sequence where Anya, Dimitri, and Vladimir narrowly escape death when their supernaturally-sabotaged train plunges off its tracks into a canyon. Inevitably, a love story arises between Anya and Dimitri—John Cusack is in full-on Say Anything dejected lover mode—but the more touching scene is Anya's reunion with her long-lost grandmother.
Ingredient #5: Sweeping musical numbers, to be sung by our heroine whilst she twirls in circles with arms outstretched like Julie Andrews at the beginning of The Sound of Music. You get the idea. Anastasia's many musical interludes aren't quite as memorable as the best Disney tunes, but Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens' songs are breathless and occasionally lyrically clever. Kelsey Grammer and Angela Lansbury do their own singing, but Meg Ryan and John Cusack are replaced by Liz Callaway and Jonathan Dokuchitz whenever their characters are required to burst into song.
All in all, Anastasia feels like a lesser Disney film that never was. It has the same attitude, the same basic story, and the same visual style— down to the way the characters' eyes and mouths are drawn—but it's never as charming or affecting as, say, Beauty and the Beast. On one hand, it seems unfair to compare the film to the best Disney movies of the 1990s, but since Fox Animation Studios was set up specifically to compete with Disney, comparisons are inevitable. Tellingly, the new studio was shut down just three years later, after its Anastasia follow- up, Titan A.E., tanked colossally at the box office. With the shuttering of the studio, the only other real contender for the animation crown fell at Mickey's big yellow shoe-wearing feet. Still, Anastasia is a good-if-not-quite-great entry in animation film history, and it remains a curiosity—the most Disney non-Disney film ever made.
Anastasia Blu-ray, Video Quality
I've read a few harsh reviews of Anastasia's Blu-ray transfer, and honestly, I have no idea what film these folks were watching. While Anastasia's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer doesn't quite reach the incredibly high bar set by Disney's animated titles, the film certainly looks wonderful here. My sole concern—and this is a relatively small one—is that there are a few scenes, mostly near the end of the film, where slight banding can be noticed in the fine color gradients of the backgrounds. (This is most visible in the sequence where Rasputin confronts the princess on the bridge.) In fact, I'm not entirely sure this is necessarily a compression/encode issue—the color bands may have been present in the source material. I'm withholding my judgment on this one. Regardless, it's a trivial quibble—unless you have a positively enormous screen, you'd have to go out of your way to look for it. In all other regards, this is a solid, problem-free transfer. Outlines are usually crisp and strongly demarcated, the animation is fluid—no herky-jerky pans—and the various implementations of CGI work well with the traditional 2-D drawings to create the illusion of depth. Color reproduction, to my eyes, looks perfectly balanced, neither oversaturated nor too drab. I see no significant problems here. Does the film look as blindingly brilliant as the latest Disney release? No, but judged on its own merits, Anastasia makes a great showing on Blu-ray.
Anastasia Blu-ray, Audio Quality
When I saw that Fox neglected to put a lossless audio track on their recent Robots release, I was worried—as many of your were, I'm sure—that this would become a trend. Thankfully, that's not the case. This release of Anastasia comes with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, and a strong one at that. The film's frequently active sound design gives plenty of opportunity to revel in the sonic benefits of lossless multi-channel audio. The rear channels are put to good use, not only for whiz-bang cross-speaker effects—demon bats winging through the rears, cars screeching from left to right, particles from the train explosion whizzing past your head—but also for ambience, like wintry wind and ballroom clamor. The mix has plenty of oomph, with occasional low-end subwoofer rumble and clarity throughout the spectrum. Of course, music is one of the most prevalent aspects of the mix, and the songs—as well as David Newman's score—sound wonderful. Dialogue throughout is clean, clear, and easy to understand. For those that need or want them, dubs and subtitles are available in a variety of languages.
Anastasia Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All previous DVD material has been ported over here, along with the addition of two new remote control-based games.
Anastasia Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Fox Animation Studios may have folded disastrously in 2000, but on a brighter note, the imprint was revived in 2009 for Wes Anderson's Fantastic Mr. Fox. Here's hoping the studio lasts long enough this time around to take a real pop at the champ! Anastasia was a strong effort on Fox's part to topple Disney's dominance, but Mickey was and is a seemingly immovable object. Still, the film has developed quite a following over the years— especially among Don Bluth's ardent followers—and it definitely has its merits. It looks great on Blu-ray too, so I see no reason for animation fans not to pick this one up.
Anastasia: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Anastasia (1 bundle)
Anastasia Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Family Blu-ray Wave from Fox in March - January 21, 2011
An early announcement to retailers indicates that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will release five family titles from its catalog on Blu-ray on March 22, : Anastasia (Don Bluth/GaryGoldman, 1997), Because of Winn-Dixie (Wayne Wang, 2005), Flicka (Michael Mayer, ...
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