While Disney was killing the animated movie game for years and was making truly cinematic masterpieces in the 90s (I mean, Lion King!) other production companies were trying to compete. There are a few companies that were trying to make game-changing movies, Universal, DreamWorks, Goldcrest, Pixar, and 20th Century Fox, to name a few.
Everyone was trying to be Disney, (Pixar would become a part of Disney as of 2006) but they just weren’t getting the audience they were hoping for. The biggest issue was that Disney had to budget to have big names for the voice actors and to take more time with the animation. Also, Disney was focusing almost completely on animated movies, whereas every other production company was also doing live-action movies as well.
Looking at the highest-grossing animated movies of the 90s, there is a trend. It is all Disney and Pixar. They worked together at this point but weren’t joined yet. The 12th highest grossing movie of the 90s was Prince of Egypt, and so on down the line past 12 are mostly non-Disney movies. Number 17 is Anastasia. While there are higher-grossing movies than it, they don’t have as much of an impact as Anastasia (except for the Pokemon Movie). Anastasia was a revolutionary movie that not only brought mainstream actors to voice but also had great reviews and amazing animation and it wasn’t Disney!
Anastasia is the story of Anya (voiced by Meg Ryan), who finds an article that Russia is looking for Grand Dutchess Anastasia Romanov, a girl who disappeared after her royal family was killed. Anya journeys to St. Petersburg to find what she doesn’t remember. Along the way, she meets Dimitri (John Cusack), who is trying to find an Anastasia lookalike to get the reward for it, and Vlad (Kelsey Grammer), who is Dimitri’s friend. Throughout their adventure, they are trying to be taken out by Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) and his bat sidekick Bartok (Hank Azaria). The long journey leads to laughter and heartbreak.
This movie is based on the actual events of the Niklovaena Dynasty, where Tsar Nicholas and his family were assassinated and for years Grand Dutchess Anastasia was not found. She was eventually found dead, but there was always a rumor that she had escaped. Obviously, you can’t make that dark of a story an animated kids’ movie, so creators Don Bluth and Gary Goldman put a Pygmalion twist to the story.
The movie got rave reviews from fans and critics. Disney attempted to hurt the release of the movie by re-releasing Little Mermaid at the same time. It would end up grossing 139 million dollars at the box office, which was a great success. The movie would spark a sequel and a lot of merchandise. The movie was also nominated for two Academy Awards, among many other things. In 2016, the movie was adapted into a Broadway musical. (Go watch a performance of Journey to the Past by Christy Altomare)
I have seen the movie an abundance of times, and I have seen the musical live. This is one of my favorites, so this is going to be a biased review.
The animation style looks different from that of Disney. There are realistic elements to it, but then there are elements that are not. The movie starts with a backstory from the Grandmother of the Romanov family. This is the story of the Romanov curse from Rasputin and how everything changed during one of their balls. They foreshadow a song, Dimitri, and the place where some of the story will take place. Anastasia in this flashback looks older, like she should remember what is happening. Though it makes sense, why she wouldn’t? It’s traumatic because her whole family died.
We then meet Anya, a girl who is aging out of the orphanage that she is in. She has been there for years and remembers nothing about her childhood. Anya has a few items from her past but does not understand what is going on. She goes on a journey to St. Petersburg. She is accompanied by a cute stray dog Pooka, who is the best dog. I would want a dog like Pooka. Through this, she sings Journey to the Past, which is an incredible song. While Anya goes on her journey, there is a search for the Grand Dutchess Anastasia. There is a prize for the actual Grand Dutchess Anastasia. Dimitri and Vlad, friends and conmen are trying to find someone who is enough like Anastasia to get the prize money.
Anya finds the place where Vlad and Dimitri are, and it brings back memories because it is the old Romanov property. Through this, she sees a music box and has flashbacks from her past while singing Once Upon a December, which is another fantastic song. The soundtrack for this movie is great. Dimitri finds her with Vlad and decides that Anya is a good enough match to be Anastasia and wants to take her to get the prize money. Dimitri and Vlad are very sketchy and Anya is a very vulnerable girl, so this is weird. As all of this is going on, Rasputin finds out that there is still one Romanov left and needs to find Anastasia. Rasputin is a great villain, he is a lot more evil than a normal Disney villain and a lot more disgusting.
Dimitri, Vlad, and Anastasia are on their journey where they are on a train to Paris to meet the cousin of Sophie, the grandmother of Anastasia. As they are on the train, Rasputin is attempting to take over the train and kill Anastasia. Also, Dimitri and Anastasia have playful energy. They clearly don’t want to like each other, but they do. Dimitri is rude for a while. This seems to be because he knew Anastasia and secretly wants her to be the real girl. On the train, Vlad and Dimitri teach Anya how to have etiquette in the song Learn to Do It. It’s a cute song and continues to have Anya slowly remember her past. Dimitri and Vlad believe that she really is a Romanov.
Anya, Dimitri, and Vlad all meet with Sophie. There they truly realize that Anya is Anastasia because she can recall how she escaped from the attack of Rasputin because Dimitri was there. They get to meet with Marie, the grandmother at the Opera. Dimitri, through all of this, has figured out that he loves Anya and wants to be with her. He also is the typical man and will not tell her he loves her.
Marie refuses to meet Anya, and then Dimitri abducts Marie in an effort for Anya to meet Marie. Which is insane, and Dimitri should have been arrested for this. Anya and Marie talk and Anya remembers her grandmother, and she remembers Anya as Anastasia. This was an adorable scene that was heartbreaking because all Marie wanted was her family back. Marie offers the reward to Dimitri but he will not take it and leaves back to Russia. Anya, who is now Anastasia, hears of this gesture and realizes that she loves Dimitri.
Rasputin comes back for revenge on Anastasia, and she, by herself, takes him down in this badass battle. It is truly epic. After Dimitri and Anastasia reconcile and then end up getting married. Anastasia sends a note to her grandmother saying she will come and see her someday, and the movie ends.
Overall, the movie is great. They didn’t need the romance between Anya and Dimitri, but at least they spent more time together than most animated couples. They also start off not liking each other, and then eventually fall for each other. It is more realistic than most couples. The story is unrealistic, but it is cute despite that.
Does it Hold Up?
It is always a great movie. Despite having a different animation style, and some outdated references, it really is a great movie.
I adore this movie. The songs, the story, the characters, it is true nostalgia. I had a toy growing up that was an interactive book with Bartok. This movie was my childhood.
Do you remember this movie? Post your thoughts in the comments below!
Welcome to The Space Jam (1996)
As always, Creating Nostalgia Millennial Style!
1 thought on “Greatest Non-Disney Movie? Anastasia (1997)”
Anastasia was such an amazing movie. I loved Bartok, such a fun character. The movie version of Once Upon a December is really good, but the pop version by Deana Carter is truly magical. The way she belts out the power notes and pulls it back for the soft notes is just perfect.