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Anastasia (1997)



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The 1997 animated film Anastasia was a comeback of sorts for ex-Disney animator Don Bluth, who left to direct animated features on his own. His first, The Secret of NIMH, was great, but successive efforts had gone steadily downhill. With Anastasia, he bursts back to the forefront. As unlikely as its subject matter is for animation, Bluth has nevertheless created a grand musical adventure romance that makes him once again noteworthy competition for Disney.

Which is not to say that Anastasia is the perfect film. It has its faults, not the least of which is a silly villain (Rasputin, with little in common with the real life character). With all due respect to Christopher Lloyd's fine voice work, he's neither menacing nor darkly funny. Worse, he has no reason to be in the story at all. Anastasia's plot doesn't need a villain. I can't help but think it would have been much more involving without one.

The story is loosely based on the infamous historical event that took place in 1918. The Russian royal family were murdered, but there was some doubt as to whether the youngest daughter, Anastasia, escaped. An orphan named Anya, who has lost all memory of the first years of her life, is used by two con men to pretend to be Anastasia -- but, naturally, it turns out that she may be the real thing.

The characters, and the interplay between them, is the film's high point. There are a few action scenes, yes, but this is largely a character-driven movie. The end is predictable, but in the journey lies the fun.

The songs are mostly entertaining but unmemorable and a bit too frequent at one point near the beginning. Although none of them are great, only one strikes the wrong note, namely Rasputin's big chorus number -- but that's just a symptom of the aforementioned weak villain problem.

The animation itself is alternately spectacular and routine. Computers were used to render the external shots, and some of them are almost photographic. A train sequence is particularly stunning. But the character animation is less than standard Disney. The computer animated scenes unfortunately accentuate this shortcoming.

As it stands, Anastasia is a good film. Partially obscured by the ridiculous villain and his funny but out-of-place sidekick is a better one.

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