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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Movie Review - Anastasia

Anastasia (1997)
Featuring the vocal talents of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury
Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

First, let's dispel the notion that Anastasia is a Disney movie.  Upon its release in 1997 and in subsequent years after, the public often assumes that this Don Bluth/Gary Goldman directed feature is a Disney film.  Admittedly, the film arrived at the end of Disney's 1990s animation renaissance and Bluth and Goldman tailored the flick to mirror Disney's successes in that era.  Our title character looks like a mash-up of Ariel and Belle.  The film opens with a song sung by the townsfolk.  The typical fairy tale storyline is certainly present.  But Anastasia is not a Disney film.

That being said, this flick is actually better than I remember it being and, with the exception of one fairly major problem area, Anastasia is a success.  Granted, it simplifies the tale of the Russian Romanov family whose dynasty was overthrown by public revolt, but considering this is a film aimed at children, I'm okay with that notion.  The film weaves its tale around Anya (voiced by Meg Ryan), a teen girl who ten years prior showed up at an orphanage unaware of who she was or how she became abandoned.  It turns out that Anya is the only surviving daughter of the Romanov clan, but she has no clue of her legacy.  Out for a quick buck, young Dimitri (John Cusack) and older Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer) have set out to find a young girl who can pass for the missing Anastasia and present her to the girl's grandmother -- the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury) -- to earn reward money.  Little do Dimitri and Vladimir know that Anya truly is Anastasia.

I must admit that I liked the plot above.  I found the premise intriguing and the internal conflicts of the above characters surprisingly mature for a film of this type.  Unfortunately, feeling the need to spice up the plot, the film flounders hugely by throwing in an unnecessary villain in Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd).  Here, Rasputin has sold his soul to the devil and is essentially dead and living in hell where is various body parts fall off for purportedly comedic effect.  Rasputin's one mission in life is to end the Romanov blood line and he'll utilize a variety of witchcraft and sorcery from his underground lair in order to achieve this.  The film doesn't need him whatsoever.  There's plenty of surprisingly emotional conflict to be had without his fake magical powers.  By placing Rasputin at the crux of the flick's denouement, the film falters greatly and ends in a disappointing fashion.

Animation-wise the film is solid, but I don't think it can really compare to the Disney films of the era (although I'll soon find that out as we continue on our Disney Discussion journey).  However, I appreciated the voice acting, particularly that of John Cusack who admittedly isn't doing much else other than being the stuttering John Cusack who we all know, but for some reason proves successful.  I found the songs and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty quite good as well and much better than I remembered them being.  While it's certainly true the songwriters and screenwriters are following the Disney formula, it's a formula that works.

I must say that I didn't go into this expecting to enjoy it at all, but I found Anastasia a surprisingly solid animated film with an admittedly major flaw.  Remove that and the flick would've been great, but with it, it just ends up lukewarm.

The RyMickey Rating:  C+

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