[Screen It]


(1997) (voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack) (G)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
Minor Minor Moderate *Moderate Minor
Minor None Moderate None None
Smoking Tense Family
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Children's Animated: A con artist convinces an orphaned young woman, who can't remember her past, that she might be the missing heir to a once great Russian empire.
It's 1916 Russia, and Czar Nicholas and the royal Romanov family live well. Grand Duchess Marie (voice of ANGELA LANSBURY) is planning a trip to Paris, and gives her eight-year-old granddaughter, Anastasia, a necklace with which to remember her. Before she leaves, however, Rasputin (voice of CHRISTOPHER LLOYD), an evil sorcerer, casts a spell over the family and the Russian revolution quickly follows. Consequently, all of the Romanovs perish except for Marie and Anastasia. Dimitri, a young servant boy, saves both of them, but as they make their escape, Marie and Anastasia are separated, leaving the granddaughter orphaned for the next ten years.

Now a young lady and known as Anya (voice of MEG RYAN), she doesn't remember anything of her past, but sets off to find her true identity and her real family. Along the way she runs into Dimitri (voice of JOHN CUZACK), who is now a St. Petersburg con artist. He and his trusted friend Vlad (voice of KELSEY GRAMMAR) hope to find a young woman who can pass for the long lost Anastasia and thus bring them a handsome reward for her return. Neither Dimitri nor Anya recognize each other from their brief encounter a decade earlier, but Dimitri and Vlad convince Anya that she might be the missing Russian heir.

Thus, they set off for Paris, hoping to meet with the Empress Marie and collect their reward. Rasputin, living a life of solitude in purgatory, hears from his old confidant, Bartok (voice of HANK AZARIA), a goofy albino bat, that Anastasia is alive, and thus he sets off to finish his plan. Meanwhile, Dimitri and Anya's initial antagonism toward each other soon turns to attraction as they near Paris. As they try to meet with Marie to convince her of Anastasia's return, they must deal with Rasputin and his minions who try to bring about her demise.

Most younger kids probably will, although it will probably play better with young girls than young boys (due to the Princess-like plot).
For not containing any material to warrant a higher rating.
As we've stated before, it's questionable whether kids see cartoon characters as role models. Nonetheless, Rasputin is obviously the "bad guy," and Dimitri is a con artist who changes his ways and beliefs by the story's end. Anya, on the other hand, is a determined young lady who hasn't let her unknown past, or her past ten years of poverty, stop her from being confident in herself.


OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
In the beginning (of movie animation that is), there was a guy by the name of Disney who created a short piece of film (after cutting his teeth on more than seventy other short films) about a rodent piloting a steamboat. Crudely drawn and certainly not as cuddly as kids are used to him today, the little fella named Mickey heralded in a new form of big screen entertainment. Later color was added and the many films that followed become more lavish and full-length. The Disney studio became synonymous with animated features and would dominate that genre for decades. As time passed by, however, they stopped making those lavish productions, and while they continued to produce animated features, they didn't look as good or do as well financially as their forbearers.

Along the way other studios and animators tried their hand at animated features. Ralph Bakshi did an infamous adult cartoon, "Fritz the Cat," as well as tamer fare such as "Wizards." Don Bluth, a former Disney animator ("Pete's Dragon," "Robin Hood"), left the studios in the late 1970's to make his own pictures and created films such as "The Secret of NIMH," "The Land Before Time," and "All Dogs Go To Heaven" -- all decent pictures, but not up to the old animation standards.

Then in 1989 along came "The Little Mermaid" and suddenly animation was hot again. It was followed by "Beauty & the Beast" that not only ushered in new standards for the genre, but was also nominated for Best Picture of the year. Then came "The Lion King" that not only upped the animation ante, but also broke box office records and is still one of the highest grossing pictures of all time. Suddenly everyone wanted to make such films, and although Disney's subsequent efforts have continued to make less and less money, the fever is still hot.

All of which brings us to "Anastasia," 20th Century Fox's first high-dollar, big screen attempt to steal some of Disney's thunder. Helmed by none other than Don Bluth, this is the first big legitimate contender Disney has faced. The Mouse hasn't blinked, however, and they've already countered by recently re-releasing "The Little Mermaid" to blunt the competition's success at the box office. Whether that happens is too early to say, but with Dreamworks Studios preparing its own big screen release of "The Prince of Egypt" for next year, the animation genre is suddenly the big thing once again.

The question is how does "Anastasia" compare to the latest and greatest of Disney's efforts. The answer is that this film raises the bar for animation standards as it contains some of the most elaborately drawn (albeit sometimes computer enhanced) sequences ever seen in an animated film. What makes this film stand out is the complexity of many of its scenes. Their depth is often utterly amazing, with so many layers of animated activity occurring on screen that it takes on a somewhat realistic feel. Some of that also comes from making parts of the scenes out of focus, and while this film isn't the first to use such material, it certainly does it the best.

Little touches enhance the production, such as the most realistic -- and again dimensional -- snowfall seen yet. One of the most amazing bits, that initially makes one think it's a flaw, involves what turns out to be sunlight and shade alternately striking the characters under a tree. The computer animation is outstanding and provides for some wonderfully detailed backgrounds as well as a quite realistic train sequence.

The human movements are occasionally so good that they nearly appear to have been rotoscoped (where the filmed image of a real person is used as an outline to draw an animated character). However, when superimposed on the computer generated backgrounds they suffer from what appears to be a lack of gravity. Their feet never quite look like their contacting the floor, but in the traditionally drawn backgrounds, this problem fortunately disappears.

Regarding the story, the writers were careful in sticking with a Disney tradition where the main character is motherless, and they also included the now obligatory humorously cute, talking animal. There are some plot problems that kids won't catch, but may trouble adults. Obviously there's the film's take on the real life story of the Russian revolution and the later appearance of Anastasia, who may or may not have been an imposter. The film's interpretation of historical events -- like many other movies -- is loosely based and older kids should be told that it wasn't Rasputin's magical spell that crumbled the Czar's regime.

The plot also has a few inexplicable, but key elements. It's never fully or convincingly explained why Anya can't remember her childhood (she was eight-years-old, after all, when the revolution took place), beyond what we assume was an amnesia inducing fall at a train station. Likewise, it seems odd that Rasputin would assume that Anastasia died during the revolution when his last glimpse of her was as he slid underwater to his death. With the ability to mystically see other places, one would expect that he would earlier have known that both Anastasia and the Empress Marie were still alive (and he inexplicably never goes after the grandmother despite his pledge to kill off the entire family). Those are small concerns, but they do somewhat distract from the overall experience.

On the musical side, the selection of talent to voice the characters is quite good and realistically believable, and their substitute singing voices (all but Kelsey Grammar who did his own) are not only superb, but also sound enough like the leads to make the talking to singing transition seamless. The musical numbers (by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty) are very similar to what you'd hear on Broadway (which isn't a surprise since those two are also behind the numbers in "Ragtime"). Much more akin to what you'd hear in "Les Miserables" than "Aladdin" or "The Lion King," the scores and songs are very entertaining for adults, but many kids might find them boring.

That's where this film surprisingly falls short. For not only are there no real "fun" songs for kids (as in the Disney films), the overall scope of the movie seems more geared for parents than for their Disney weaned offspring. That's not to say that the subject matter isn't suitable for younger viewers. It's just that many younger kids might get bored with this production. Little girls who are into princess stories will probably be able to sit through it with no problem, but many young boys at our screening were rather restless.

Part of that lies with the fact that the film makers opted not to go with many cute, talking animals -- there's just one here -- and thus there's not as much of that attraction for the kids. Granted, the simple fact that this is a very colorful animated film will hold their attention for a while, but your kids may get restless after some time. That, in addition to the lack of sing-along songs for the kids, and the film definitely feels aimed more for the adults than the youngsters.

Of course one shouldn't fault a film for that. Just because it's animated and rated G doesn't mean it has to forgo the adult audience -- or even be aimed at kids at all. Unlike Disney's "Beauty & The Beast (which is still their best overall effort to date), however, this film doesn't make that wonderful balance of equally entertaining all age groups.

Fox may have made a strategic error by doing that, however, as the toy tie-in is rather limited compared with most of the Disney films (as evidenced by recent commercials featuring the rather sparse collection of available toy figures). Then again, perhaps the studio is trying to "out fox" the Big Mouse by creating a show that's more easily and quickly adaptable into a real Broadway production. Having seen the recent success of the stage productions of "Beauty & The Best" and "The Lion King," I'm sure the Fox executives are already working on that.

No matter the stage possibilities, should the film prove financially successful, the groundwork has already been laid for a sequel. At the end, a character comments that the story's resolution is a perfect ending, but Marie corrects her by saying, "It's a perfect beginning." I don't think perfect is the way to describe this movie, but it is pretty darn good. Featuring Broadway-like songs and some of the best animation ever seen on the screen, this is an impressive freshman effort that will certainly make Disney take notice. We give "Anastasia" a 7 out of 10.

Like most other animated features, the "worst" of the included material is a villain whose appearance and behavior may be frightening to younger viewers. His spirit-like minions may also scare some kids, and there are a few sequences -- with some limited violence -- that are rather suspenseful, especially for younger children. Parents should also note that the film may have somewhat of a limited appeal for their younger kids. While it's animated and does have one talking animal, kids may find some of the other material boring or too serious for their liking after the movie has begun. Still, many kids will want to see this film, so we suggest that you look through the content to determine if it's appropriate for your children.

  • Dimitri pours himself what appears to be wine (but he doesn't drink any).
  • Dimitri and others have champagne at their table (but don't drink any) in a Parisian musical number.
  • A few people at an opera performance hold drinks.
  • There's certainly nothing graphic, but there are a few scenes where Rasputin's body falls apart (his eye falls out, his lips fall off, and his hand comes off).
  • Likewise, there's one scene where his head falls down into his body where we see the inside of his rib cage along with some sort of reddish pool of liquid floating below that (all of which inspired a lot of "Ooh's" from the kids in our screening).
  • Obviously Rasputin and his helpers have both as they're responsible for the deaths of most of the Romanov family as well as attempts on Anastasia's life.
  • For those who are offended by the occult, Rasputin sells his soul for a spell to put on the Romanov family.
  • Dimitri and Vlad hope to find a woman who can act like the long lost heir so that they can collect the reward money offered by the Empress Marie.
  • Vlad comments that Anya certainly has a mind of her own to which Dimitri replies, "Yeah, I hate that in a woman." While that sounds bad, it's somewhat said in a joking manner.
  • Whether what's listed below is frightening will depend on your kids and their ages.
  • Rasputin's evil appearance and behavior may be scary for younger viewers, as may that of his minions -- little green gargoyle-like creatures that carry out his evil deeds.
  • Rasputin casts a spell over the Romanov family, and while doing so briefly turns into a skeleton himself.
  • Rasputin grabs Anastasia (as a girl) by the foot as she tries to escape. The ice below him, however, cracks open and he slowly slips into the icy cold water.
  • Anastasia (as a girl) tries to run for the train her grandmother is already on, but she can't quite make it, and is thus left orphaned for the next ten years.
  • Younger kids may be frightened when Anya walks through the dark and deserted palace.
  • Rasputin has some sort of "spirit cylinder" that has a green, glowing substance inside as well as a snake running around the outside and a human skull on the top, all of which may be disturbing to young kids.
  • Likewise, the purgatory where we later find him may also be unsettling to some kids.
  • There's a long sequence on board a train that's out of control due to Rasputin's minions who've sabotaged it. They then knock out a bridge and Anya, Dimitri and Vlad try to disconnect their car and then get off the train.
  • Anya sleepwalks where she thinks she's in a pleasant meadow, but in reality she's on the edge of a ship during a bad storm and nearly jumps off into the huge waves.
  • Near the end, Anya leaves the palace looking for her dog. Some roots menacingly move toward her, the scary music starts, and Rasputin finally confronts her. He makes the bridge she's standing on fall apart, and she holds on for dear life. Dimitri tries to rescue her (and punches Rasputin), but the sorcerer causes a menacing-looking Pegasus statue to come to life that tries to kill Dimitri. The dog bites Rasputin who then zaps it with some sort of lightning bolt. Anya then knocks him to the ground, he kicks her away, but she finally breaks his spirit cylinder and he melts away into a skeleton and finally dissolves into dust.
  • Rifle: Used by a soldier to hit Dimitri (as a boy) with its butt.
  • Dynamite: Used to sever the connection between two train cars.
  • Vlad throws papers to the street (littering).
  • None.
  • We rate it as moderate, but depending on the ages of your kids, the music may or may not be unsettling to them, and most of it occurs in the scenes with Rasputin, as well as during an out of control train sequence.
  • None.
  • None.
  • None.
  • An older woman acting like Anastasia has a lit cigarette in a holder.
  • Some French men in a musical number have lit cigarettes in their mouths.
  • Anastasia is left behind in Russia and must live the next decade of her life not knowing who she is or whether she even has a family.
  • Empress Marie never stops looking for Anastasia however, and often meets with young women who claim to be the missing heir, but after so many hoaxes, Marie decides to give up her search.
  • The true life incidents upon which this film is loosely based.
  • That Dimitri gave up the fortune he initially wanted after he learned that it wouldn't mean anything without Anya.
  • Searching for one's family (ie. If a child has been adopted).
  • Rasputin causes a chandelier to crash to the floor in the palace, and people tear down a statue during the revolution.
  • A soldier hits Dimitri (as a boy) with a rifle butt.
  • Anya unknowingly punches Dimitri when he wakes her up, and later purposefully slaps him when she thinks he's lied to her.
  • A large minion destroys a bridge down the train tracks from the car that Anya, Dimitri, and Vlad are in.
  • Anya hands Dimitri a lit stick of dynamite that he uses to sever two train cars. After the threesome has jumped from the train, the two cars fall through a broken bridge and crash onto the ground below and then explode.
  • Rasputin shatters a skull and kicks out a large chunk of a skeletal wall.
  • Two "bouncers" throw Dimitri out of the room where he was trying to talk to Marie.
  • Near the end, Anya leaves the palace looking for her dog. Some roots menacingly move toward her, the scary music starts, and Rasputin finally confronts her. He makes the bridge she's standing on fall apart, and she holds on for dear life. Dimitri tries to rescue her (and punches Rasputin), but the sorcerer causes a menacing-looking Pegasus statue to come to life that tries to kill Dimitri. The dog bites Rasputin who then zaps it with some sort of lightning bolt. Anya then knocks him to the ground, he kicks her away, but she finally breaks his spirit cylinder and he melts away into a skeleton and finally dissolves into dust.

  • Reviewed November 15, 1997

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