It's the late '90s. 20th Century Fox just bought Don Bluth's animation studio. They immediately demand a money-maker, and so Bluth delivers one – by once again copying the popular Disney formula. The end result, while by no means a good movie, still ended up being the money-making vehicle Fox was hoping for. And they milked the hell out of it. There were dolls, play sets, Happy Meal toys, a video game, a direct-to-video spin-off, even an ice show. And all of it was made specifically to resemble the way Disney does things, right down to the way the packaging on the figures looked. Even now, the DVD cover and YouTube thumbnail are designed specifically to invoke the look of the Disney Princess franchise. There's even a Broadway musical in the works, just like what Disney does with their successful properties. Everything this movie is and does exists because of what the cool kids are doing. It's even so good at replicating the Disney style, it spawned three mockbuster films by companies most known for stealing from Disney. It really was (and still is) that indistinguishable from the real thing, at least as far as the general public is concerned. How has the 20th Century Fox logo been escaping notice all this time? That we may never know.
The film opens with a CGI music box playing "Once Upon a December" as the opening titles roll. Then we get a narration by the Dowager Empress about what a great place Russia was before the revolution... well, she did specifically say it was an "enchanted world of elegant palaces", so it's more likely that pre-revolution Russia was only good for the 1%. Next we get to see young Anastasia (looking a lot older than she probably should be) dancing with the father we'll never see again, and then singing a song with dear old Granny. And then suddenly, Rasputin happened. He just sort of appears in the movie out of nowhere. And not only is he the movie's villain, but he's also an evil sorcerer with a talking bat and green demon thingies. For some reason, Rasputin lays a curse on the Romanov family to kill them all (except the Dowager empress for some reason). And then for some reason, this sparks the revolution. In the ensuing escape, Rasputin falls through the ice and dies for some reason, and Anastasia trips and hits her head for some reason. For some reason, she's presumed dead.
Skip ahead to 1926 where, have you heard? There's a rumor in St. Petersberg that Anastasia might still be alive... even though she was just lost in a crowd, and there was no reason for anyone to think she was dead. Anyway, it turns out communism sucks, and rumors like these are the only things that get the people through the day. So the lives of virtually everyone in the country suck, big deal. A con artist and his fat friend matter way more, and they've got a plan to get themselves rolling in the dough – find the right girl to play Anastasia, and pass her off as the real deal to the Dowager Empress. Never mind the moral implications of tricking an old woman into thinking she's been finally reunited with her long-lost granddaughter, while also forcing someone to leave their former life behind and pretend to be someone else for the rest of their days, we're gonna get rich!
And wouldn't you know it, it just so happens that Anastasia herself has set off on a journey to find out who she really is. Apparently she spent her life up until now at an orphanage, and for some reason, absolutely no one recognized her for the entire time she was there. Oh well.
Anastasia "Anya" goes off on her own in the snow, and after spending a few moments asking for a sign for no apparent reason, the animal sidekick pops out of the bushes. Anya figures this is good enough, and sets out on a "Journey to the Past", arriving at her destination within minutes.
So, Anya has this locket that says "together in Paris" (which the Dowager Empress never mentioned after all these years), and she wants to go to Paris to find her family... never mind that she's supposed to be Danish, not French, but that's neither here nor there. So, Anya goes to the deserted palace, where she dusts off old junk and dances with ghostly figures. How this doesn't trigger any repressed memories is anyone's guess. Anyway, she meets Dimitri and Vlad, and they convince her that she's the real Anastasia so they can pawn her off on the Dowager Empress after teaching her the ways. But little do they realize that she actually is the real Anastasia! Isn't life funny that way?
And now, a talking white bat and a green glowing vial filled with demon thingies. ...Just give that a moment to sink in there. We've spent the last ten minutes on historical fiction, and now we're back in fantasy land. So, for some reason, Bartok and the thingie fall into what I guess is purgatory, to find Rasputin (or what's left of him). By this point, Rasputin has become a cartoon character, constantly falling apart and stretching like rubber. But, at the least, he's got a kickass villain song... which is slightly diminished by the dancing pink bugs and the line "tie my sash, and a dash of cologne for that smell". At the end, Rasputin sends his green demon thingies after Anastasia to kill her. Because for some reason the curse couldn't have just done that on its own.
Anya, Dimitri and Vlad they board a train to Paris. For some reason, Vlad thinks there's some "unspoken attraction" between Dimitri and Anya, which is odd since they haven't had very much onscreen chemistry together. But then that night, Rasputin's minions try to derail the train! And they manage to do it without anybody seeing them. Also, all the train's passengers except for out main heroes mysteriously vanish. So of course, the good guys get out safely, and everything is peachy.
In the countryside, Dimitri and Vlad try to help Anya "Learn to Do It", to help her play the part. Anya gets closer to discovering her inner duchess, but still nothing seems to click. Also, I forgot to mention, Dimitri and Anastasia had actually met before at the beginning of the movie. Dimitri actually helped Anya and the Dowager Empress escape during the revolution. And he apparently doesn't remember meeting her before, either. So, next the heroes go on a boat, where Anya dresses like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. And she and Dimitri have a romantic dance.
Oh yeah, there's an evil sorcerer in this movie, isn't there? So, for his next trick, Rasputin creates an illusion to make Anya jump into the ocean and kill herself. Wow, that's pretty dark for a kid's movie. Dimitri is there to snap her out of it, but still. Now that that's over with, the heroes arrive in Paris, and for some reason, Anya has permission to be around her grandmother. After a pointless song, Anya is refused by the Dowager Empress, causing her to figure out that it was a con all along. Of course now Dimitri figures out that Anya is in fact the real Anastasia, so what does he do? He hijacks the Dowager Empress's car, and takes her to spend time with Anya to see for herself. Naturally, the Dowager Empress figures it out, and Anastasia is finally reunited with her family.
Happily ever after, right? Nope, we've still got Rasputin to deal with. Yeah, he's in this movie. Remember that? This time, he lures Anastasia through a hedge maze, and actually shows up to kill her in person. And then Dimitri shows up to help for some reason (he had no way of knowing this was happening), and because I'm bad at writing about fight scenes, I'll just skip to the part where Anastasia has the green thingie under her foot. So, Dimitri looks dead, a bridge has been destroyed, and Anastasia is having none of it. So, she breaks Rasputin's thingie, and he finally dies for good. And if you know Disney conventions, you could probably guess that Dimitri is okay, and that Anastasia gives up her money and responsibility to be with him.
And then for some reason, Bartok gets a girl bat. The end.
Fuck. Where do we begin?
Awards and Accolades
Yep, this movie actually won awards. How much are you willing to bet Don Bluth signed a contract with the devil just to make this thing a hit?
- Academy Awards:
- Best Original Song, for "Journey to the Past" (Nominated)
- Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score (Nominated)
- Annie Awards:
- Best Animated Feature Film (Nominated)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Effects Animation (Nominated)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Directing in an Animated Feature Production (Nominated)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Music in an Animated Feature Production (Nominated)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Producing in an Animated Feature Production (Nominated)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Female Performer in an Animated Feature Production (Nominated), for Meg Ryans (Anastasia) and Angela Ransbury (Dowager Empress Marie)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Voice Acting by a Male Performer in an Animated Feature Production, for Hank Azaria (Bartok)
- Outstanding Individual Achievement for Writing in an Animated Feature Production (Nominated)
- Blockbuster Entertainment Awards: Favorite Animated Family Movie
- Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards: Best Family Film
- Golden Globe Awards: Best Original Song (Nominated), for "Journey to the Past" and "Once Upon a December"
- Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Best Animated Film
- This is to date the only Disney rip-off that succeeds in being "Disney-in-all-but-name", since everything up to the packaging on the merchandise resembles something Disney would put out. Pretty much the only thing that gives it away, aside from the 20th Century Fox logo, is how well-animated it is.
- This is to date the only Disney rip-off with not one, not two, but three rip-offs of its own.
- Including a Dingo Pictures version. Dingo Pictures, the rip-off company that exclusively steals from Disney. That's how convincing this rip-off is.
- Some of the people who were actually there at the Russian revolution were still alive when this movie was made. Also, the living relatives of the Romanovs were not particularly fond of the movie, to put it mildly, when it was first released. Turns out you don't have to be an animated Titanic movie to be incredibly insulting to history.