My opinion right after watching the film
my opinion right after the film is that it’s a solid comeback for Don Bluth, though at the same time, it’s bittersweet since he had to give up damn near all of his creativity to make this film happen. I did notice that it has the typical tonal problems that several films in the mid-late 90s had, and the inaccuracy is a bit much for my opinion. Everything in the film is relatively good, but nothing is great, and I do think they use too many pointless songs in the movie.
It was reported that Don Bluth and Gary Goldman signed a deal with 20th Century Fox to produce animated films, and to construct the animation studio. They had several suggested adaptions to choose from, but they would of course end up with Anastasia. A lot of research went on early in the production about the actual events, and it seemed like they were going to depict along the lines of what actually happened, but it was deemed as too dark, and re-tweaked into a light-hearted comedy and romance in 1995.
When that change took place, they went further down the historically inaccurate route. Grigoro Rasputin was made the villain of the film because he was horrible, despite already being dead well before the Romanov assassination. Like many other films in the 90s, an assistant was added for comedic relief, to show that it is okay to laugh.
The film starts in 1916 Imperial Russia, where a ball is taking place to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial. Empress Maria (Angela Lansbury) is visiting from Paris, and gives a musical box to her granddaughter Anastasia (Kirsten Dunst, and Meg Ryan), where they promise to reunite and live in Paris together one day. Ultimately, things go wrong where former advisor Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) interrupts the ball to announce that the entire family will die at the fortnight. He sold his soul to receive a curse/spell to make sure that he got his revenge, and while the family flees, Anastasia gets separated from her grandmother, who is stuck on a train to France.
She ends up in the old Romanov castle, and starts to regain memories before she bumps into con men Dimitri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer). To get the rising action going, they all agree for her to pretend to be Anastasia, since they all have their own motivations as to why they need to go to Paris. Rasputin is watching their every move, and we have another 90s trope where the male and female protagonists end up arguing and bickering, though we know they will eventually hook up. I don’t even think this was a trope in the Disney Renaissance; I mean, Eric and Ariel weren’t like this, Belle and Beast were an example of this (though it had a purpose), Jasmine argued with Aladdin like once (and it had a purpose), John and Pocahontas never really bickered with one another (though there was that awkward introduction), Esmeralda and Phoebus were somewhat like this, and this wasn’t the case for any of the later Renaissance couples. In this movie, they argue for NO PURPOSE WHATSOEVER.
Apparently Anastasia didn’t realize that she had to LIE about being the Grand Duchess, which……… is odd. She gets a pep talk by Vladimir, who tells her that she is no longer a nobody, and everything about her life is in Paris, which then leads into a song. So they are on a boat to Paris, and is taught how to dance in order to fill the role. All of a sudden, Anastasia and Dimitri like one another, and I really don’t care.
After arriving to Paris, and being told that the Empress will not see anyone, Vladimir and Anastasia is told about a Russian Ballet taking place tonight, and Dimitri is still startled about her actually being the princess. I forgot that he was the boy that was at the Romanov purge a decade ago (though we barely get any backstory on that).
So there is this dramatic scene where Dimitri tries to approach Maria about her granddaughter being alive, though she has him escorted out. Anastasia overhears this conversation, and we have the “liars revealed” scene, where she ends up slapping him. He ends up stealing the car that has Maria in it, and drives her to Anastasia’s room, where the elder finally believes him after being shown the music box. The reunion between the two women is really nice, as they sing with the music box, and talk about lost time. She is about to be announced to everyone, and that is when Rasputin is planning to kill her, to get her at her highest moment. Because I am not going to waste time, he ends up being defeated, and Dimitri ends up saving her. The movie ends with the two of them eloping, and her sending a farewell letter to her grandmother, promising to visit soon. Honestly, I think the ending is a complete copout.
The characters themselves are fine, and don’t really irritate me. At the same time, I was kind of wishing for more. Anastasia is a nice, aloof, and a likable enough presence, but she really doesn’t have much agency in the film, and the perspective is told from Dimitri’s at a certain point. It is really hard to handle characters with anmesia, since they often times become an empty slate without intention. Dimitri is likable enough, but reminds me of several other conman-turned-love interest/princes. It would have been nice to focus more on the grandmother, since her arc seems more interesting than everyone else’s. Vladimir is just there, and Rasputin is too much of a comedian to be taken very seriously as a villain, despite having a lot of powers.
I have to say that I’m shocked with how good the animation is in the film, especially after everything that happened during the production of the film, and this being a new studio. Yes, it is no Renaissance film, and I do think that the character designs could have been better, I really liked the integration between the two animation styles, the color schemes and backgrounds are exhilarate, an the special effects are brilliant.
While I do think all of the songs are good and useful (except maybe the last few songs), I do think the pacing of the songs needed to be better. There are so many in the first third of the film, and there are some in the latter parts of the film, but it does get distracting at times. A lot of them are used to get the plot moving, whether it’s for our 3 main characters to move from one place to another, Anastasia to have an I Want song, so on and so forth.
Reception at Release
When the film was released on November 21st, 1997, it made $50 million domestically, and a bit over $81 million in other territories, adding up to a worldwide amount of $139,804,348. This movie is Don Bluth’s highest-grossing film ever, and the first film to be financially successful film since All Dogs Go To Heaven. It would also be his last financially successful film.
It received relatively positive critical reception, which is another first since All Dogs Go To Heaven almost a decade prior. People liked the princess story, found it entertaining, liked the animation and voice acting, which made it an overall charming combination. A lot of people did compare it to the Disney Renaissance films, so people did criticize it in that regard (the people who knew it was not a Disney film). It also received a decent amount of criticism due to being historically inaccurate.
The reception of the film is relatively positive, but weird at the same time. It is seen as the best non-80s Don Bluth film, and can hold up to a lot of the 80s films, but it is seen as the most blatant example of a Disney Renaissance knockoff.