Anastasia was the mic drop to animation giants Disney.
Before I begin this review let’s clear the air, 20th century fox is not Disney and Anastasia was produced neither by Disney nor dreamwork. For any 90’s kids that were forcibly kept away from all forms of tv growing up, Anastasia is an animated musical that takes on a fictional account of the missing romanov daughter Anastasia.
While the real Anastasia did meet a tragic demise, (can you imagine just how shocked I was finding the truth about her as a child). The ageless classic puts an alternate and mystic spin to the Russian princesses tale, even borrowing from the scandal of Anna Anderson. While the film is heavily inaccurate it provides enough humour and good music to briefly uphold a suspension of disbelief.
The first 10 minutes of Anastasia is exposition done well, we get everything we need to know and the set up ready for the large time-skip. Plus there is enough conflict and suspense that makes you want to know how the rest of the story plays out. You could imagine as a child this was pretty exciting to see in a children’s film. Compared to something like The Lion King that took awhile to get to the major plot twist that would be a catalyst for Simba’s change.
We speedily get to the point of the palace being under attack as part of the curse placed on the Romanov family by the antagonist Ra..Ra..Rasputin; lover of the Russian queen.. I mean former royal advisor. While her family meet their end, only young Anastasia and her grandmother are able to flee with the help of a servant boy, remember him he will be very important later. During their escape Anastasia is separated from her grandmother who is pulled away to escape to Paris, while an unconscious Anastasia is later found and admitted to an orphanage with no memory of who she is. A good number of years go by and now an adult Anastasia sets out to St. Petersburg with the only thing giving her a hint to her past; an engraved necklace her grandmother gifted her, with the words written, “Together in Paris”. Serendipity would have it, that the most adorable dog ever would cling to her like rubber to glue. A sign, a tip and three songs later she manages to run into con-artist and former palace servant boy Dimitri and former nobleman Vladimir, and thus begins the journey to the past.
I found the characters well crafted with the only person who still felt like quite a mystery from beginning to end was Vladimir. I could not mention enough how solid of a character Anastasia was and how much of a delight it was to watch her. Not only was she a strong, and naturally an adventurous character full of awe and wonder, she was also quite the fashionista. Everything she wore looked amazing on her. Her quibbles with Dimitri were entertaining and every character interaction was believable and interesting. Everyone was lovable to a degree even Rasputin in all his eye popping, head rolling maliciousness, as the antagonist of the story.
I really liked Dimitri’s character; most of all his ability to think fast and catch on was something else. The train scene was definitely a highlight to his ability and intellect, and it was an appropriate dilemma to work as a launching pad for Anastasia and Dimitri’s relationship. I swear that the chemistry between Anastasia and Dimitri was amazing, I believed in their romance. Rasputin felt lack-lustre at times as a villain not really coming into his own till the final act.
Characters aside, some scenes did irk me, while the train scene made sense in having supernatural things happen away from the general public, the final scene at the bridge above the seine- why was no one around so suddenly? It would have made sense if she was in a completely different dimension, then I could buy the empty Parisian streets.
The animation is expressive and extremely well done even down to the fabrics and clothing. It felt like watching a stage play the way it was animated. If you ever need an example of what an animated musical should look like, then look no further. The attention to detail in the animation, along with the fluidity was gorgeous to look at. The staging is especially what caught my eye, and made me realise that it was purposely set up that way to feel like a theatre. My biggest compliments have to go to the dancing sequences, they feel very lively and really magical. There is something special about the whole aesthetic of the film that its smooth animation really contributes to. My biggest pet peeve while it mostly has to do with the editing, would be the overuse of fade ins and outs as transitions. Sometimes a cut here and there would suffice. However, all in all their attention to detail in the animation was even more exemplified in the number I never should have let them dance. The sun setting in the background was a nice touch making the passing of time feel very natural.
Details motifs and the unashamed use of sparkles and lights really boosts the films imagery. The best scene would be once upon a December, from a gloomy dusty old palaces to a bright glittering and vibrant stage of excitement and warmth, you feel like you are in the joyous circling of dancers. The costume design is period relevant and gorgeous Anastasia looks beautiful in every outfit she is in only getting more and more beautiful as the story progresses. Character designs are nothing special or incredibly different as the character designers went for a realistic approach in regards to the character designs, making the characters that much more relatable. The earthy palette is great for the gold and starry wonderfulness of some scenes and is even more amazing when it all accumulates together in the set design for Paris is the key to your heart taking on an impressionist and pointillist background design mimicking the work of Renoir and Van Gogh. Honestly. Set design is gorgeous and the scale of work really is magnificent. The mixture of 3D elements and 2D were well done and weren’t annoying despite being noticeably outdated. They weren’t too ambitious in the 3D work, a bit here and there was enough so much so that it would not look completely off by 2015 standards.
I don’t think I can “big up” this film enough. As I have mentioned previously, everything from the camera shots to staging is really well done with a lot of thought put into it. Another example would be in how well they mimic the 1930’s/40’s beauty close ups that illuminate the face, a film technique relevant for the time the film is set.
This may be blasphemy to some but Anastasia does a better job at animated musicals than Disney. The songs are fantastic. The soundtrack is of course memorable and enchanting with music that plays on the strings of Eastern European influence, later blending in a mixture of songs that take on a bold broadway approach.
I don’t talk about voice acting in sound a whole lot because I often don’t have much to say about it; but this time around I really noticed how well done the voice acting was.
The voice acting was some grade A work, borrowing the talents of exceptional stars in film, tv and theatre. It isn’t all the time using hollywood A-listers helps yet this combination of actors and actresses work really well.
I will encourage anyone reading this to give Anastasia another watch, fox made this film in order to compete with Disney, and it is no wonder why Anastasia is continually mistaken for a Disney production. The stellar work put into it by Don Bluth has been criminally under-rated for a Fox Animation. If Fox had turned out a couple of more animations to the same standard as this, I believe that Fox most definitely would have given a present Disney a hard time in the industry.