I’ve rekindled the moment when I went to the regular movie theatre to see this film with my free movie pass at the age of nine. Honestly, Bluth could not do any better, except for maybe when he did Titan A. E. three years later.
From one of my last posts that talked about my new Doctor Who idea for Camp NaNo, Once Upon a Dream, you pretty much get the idea of what the movie’s about. It’s loosely based on the dawn of the Russian Revolution, with a few minor details missing from the movie.
Those details stand thus: The Romanovs, all of them, were executed in Sverdlovsk (formerly Ekaterinburg) in 1918 as the First World War ended. Anastasia, who died at the age of 17, never lived to see her grandmother, who lived in England, not France, until she died in 1928. The filmmakers also failed to mention Anna Anderson, who was assumed that she was Anastasia until the 1960s before DNA evaluation could be done.
Still, Bluth did bring the story fully to life. With the beautifully hand drawn and computer enhanced animation, amazing voice talents, and 3D visual effects on the sets, some of the vehicles, and many other things, Anastasia became my favorite childhood fairytale all over again.
The story begins with a little bit of a prologue, with the Dowager Empress (Broadway queen Angela Lansbury) telling how Russia used to have glitz and glamour during the age of the tsars and her favorite granddaughter, Anastasia, begged her not to return to Paris, France. Instead the Dowager gives her a gift- a tiny music box that plays her favorite lullaby with a necklace holding the key as the charm and an engraving on it, reading “Together in Paris”.
But no matter how much the Dowager and the Grand Duchess wanted to be together someday, evil plans to separate them. That’s what happens when the priest turned powerful traitor Rasputin (the awesome Christopher Lloyd from Back to the Future) places a curse on the Romanov family that they will all die in two weeks. Soon, the Russian Revolution begins and the siege of the winter palace ends in death, except for our main characters: the kitchen boy Dimitri, who gets the Dowager Empress and Anastasia out of there through a secret passage, the Dowager Empress and the princess.
But as the Dowager tries to pull Anastasia onto their getaway train, Anastasia falls, hits her head and gets left behind.
Ten years later, young Anastasia has grown into the lovely and spirited orphan Anya (Meg Ryan), who due to that bump on her head has a bad case of amnesia. When she leaves the orphanage, she decides to go the other direction to St. Petersburg to follow the one clue around her neck: the necklace reading “Together in Paris”. On the way, she enlists the help of two con men (John Cusack and Kelsey Grammer) who help her get to Paris to prove she’s the Grand Duchess, and Rasputin comes back from the dead… literally… to fulfill the Romanov curse and kill Anya off himself.
Now, I noticed a lot of problems with this movie with the Revolution references, but I soon saw many references to the history and other things. Rasputin, who’s stuck between afterlife and the world above, is losing parts of his body. When I saw this in the theatre for the first time, I lost it, cracking up severely whenever he lost his mind and stretched his limbs or made a hand come clean off his arm. What I didn’t know until middle school was Grigori Rasputin’s assassin had trouble killing him because the real Rasputin originally took opium for pain… he just would not die until his assassin resorted to drown him!
There is also a scene in the movie where Anya is in the winter palace and kitchen boy turned con man Dimitri (Cusack), is talking to her about getting travel papers while surveying her, comparing her to the portrait painting of Anastasia and her family. He ends up mispronouncing Anya’s name, and Anya corrects him… not to be confused with Meg Ryan’s character mispronouncing Kevin Kline’s character name Luc in French Kiss.
The one thing that disappointed me was only three actors doing the voices of the main characters sang their songs in the film. Grammer did famously well as Dimitri’s partner Vladimir, singing “Learn to Do It” and its gorgeous reprise I call “Never Should Have Let Them Dance”. Bernadette Peters sang her Roaring Twenties style song “Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart” and Angela Lansbury sang very little with Anastasia in the room to reprise the lullaby “Once Upon a December”.
But I noticed not a single actor other than those three sang! I could tell right away John Cusack had a singing double, Meg Ryan also had someone sing for her, even Kirsten Dunst, who had the very small role in the prologue of the movie voicing the young Anastasia, did not sing! I did not think anyone would cast actors who couldn’t sing at all for a Don Bluth or Disney classic, which is sad. Even more so, I was sure Christopher Lloyd sang that perfect villain song “In the Dark of the Night”, but no, he didn’t. Frak.
My favorite part of the movie is still that dream waltz in the winter palace that I fell in love with when I saw the teaser trailer. It’s the scene where Anya sings “Once Upon a December” when she walks into the ballroom and all the people from the paintings come to life. It becomes one grand ballroom scene where Anya starts to remember her past as she dances with her ghosts. It’s a real shame that Meg Ryan didn’t have the singing voice to pull it off.
Also, the best part of the film is that director Gary Goldman, and maybe some of the animators too, actually went to Russia and extracted some of its beautiful scenery and culture for the film. In the song “Rumor in St. Petersburg”, everyone is doing the Cossack dance perfectly and the song is in pure Russian traditional style. Need I say more?
Offhand, this movie deems worthy of being called Don Bluth’s finest and I can’t wait to show this to my children, if I ever have any. For now, I’m ready to write my Doctor Who fanfiction using actual events from Russian History. After all, it is the first of the new month!
I just hope this rainy weather clears up. Now would be nice.
The Nerd Queen