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Anastasia
Anastasia is a 1997 American animated musical fantasy adventure film directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman in association with 20th Century Fox. It was released on November 21, 1997. A direct-to-video followup, Bartok the Magnificent, followed in 1999.

Plot Edit

In 1916, Tsar Nicholas II hosts a ball at the Catherine Palace to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial. His mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, is visiting from Paris, France and gives a music box and a necklace inscribed with the words: “Together in Paris” as parting gifts to her youngest granddaughter, 8-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia.

The ball is suddenly interrupted by the sorcerer Grigori Rasputin, the former royal adviser to the Romanovs until he was banished for treason. Seeking revenge, Rasputin sold his soul in exchange for an unholy reliquary, which he uses to place a curse on the Romanov family, sparking the Russian Revolution.

During the siege of the palace, only Marie and Anastasia are able to escape with the aid of 10-year-old servant boy, Dimitri, who shows them a secret passageway in Anastasia's bedroom.

Rasputin confronts the two royals outside on a frozen river, but he falls through the ice and drown. Anastasia & Marie manage to reach a moving train, but only Marie climbs aboard while Anastasia falls down, hitting her head on the platform and suffering amnesia.

Ten years later, Russia is under communist rule and Marie has publicly offered 10 million rubles for the safe return of her granddaughter.

Dimitri and his friend/partner-in-crime Vladimir search for an Anastasia look-alike to bring to Paris so they can collect the reward. Elsewhere, Anastasia (who is now 18 years old and using the name "Anya") leaves the rural orphanage where she grew up, still suffering from amnesia.

Accompanied by a stray puppy that she names "Pooka", Anastasia decides to head to Saint Petersburg, inspired by the passage on the necklace she still has, but finds she is unable to leave Russia without an exit visa.

An old woman advises Anastasia to see Dimitri at the abandoned palace, where he and Vladimir have made residence; there, the two men are impressed by her resemblance to the "real" Anastasia, and decide to take her with them to Paris.

Bartok, Rasputin's albino bat minion, is nearby and notices his master's dormant reliquary suddenly revived by Anastasia's presence; it drags him to limbo, where Rasputin survives.

Enraged to hear that Anastasia escaped the curse, Rasputin sends his demonic minions from the reliquary to kill her; despite two attempts, the trio manage to (unwittingly) foil his plans, forcing Rasputin & Bartok to travel back to the surface.

The trio eventually reach Paris and go to meet Marie, who has given up the search after being tricked by numerous imposters.

Despite this, Marie's cousin Sophie quizzes Anastasia to confirm her identity. Though Anastasia offers every answer taught to her, Dimitri finally realizes she is the real Anastasia when she (without being taught to) vaguely recalls how he helped her escape the palace siege. Sophie (who is also convinced) arranges a meeting with Marie at the Palais Garnier Opera house.

There, Dimitri tries to establish an introduction but Marie refuses, having already heard of Dimitri's initial scheme to con her. Anastasia overhears the conversation and angrily leaves.

Dimitri kidnaps Marie and takes her to see Anastasia, who regains her memories as they converse. After convincing the empress of her identity, the two are joyfully reunited. Marie offers Dimitri the reward money the next day, recognizing him as the servant boy who saved their lives; to her surprise, he refuses it and leaves for Russia.

At Anastasia's return celebration, Marie informs her of Dimitri's gesture, leaving Anastasia torn between staying or going with him. Pooka suddenly runs off & Anastasia chases him to the Pont Alexandre III where she is trapped & attacked by Rasputin. Dimitri returns to save her, but gets injured and knocked unconscious.

During the struggle, Anastasia manages to get hold of Rasputin's reliquary and crush it under her foot, avenging her family as Rasputin disintegrates and dies.

In the end, Dimitri and Anastasia reconcile & they elope. Anastasia sends a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie, promising to return one day. The couple are then seen kissing on a riverboat. Bartok shares a kiss with a female bat before bidding the audience farewell.

Voice Cast Edit

  • Meg Ryan as Anastasia
    • Kirsten Dunst 8-year-old Anastasia
    • Lacey Chabert as 8-year-old Anastasia (singing voice)
  • John Cusack as Dimitri
    • Glen Walker Harris Jr. as 10-year-old Dimitri
    • Jonathan Dokuchitz as Dimitri (singing voice)
  • Kelsey Grammer as Vlad
  • Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin
    • Jim Cummings as Rasputin (singing voice)
  • Hank Azaria as Bartok
  • Angela Lansbury as Marie
  • Bernadette Peters as Sophie
  • Andrea Martin as "Comrade" Phlegmenkoff
  • Rick Jones as Tsar Nicholas II of Russia

ProductionEdit

DevelopmentEdit

In May of 1994, The Los Angeles Times reported that Don Bluth and Gary Goldman had signed a long-term deal to produce animated features with 20th Century Fox with the studio channeling more than $100 million in constructing the animation studio.

They selected Phoenix, Arizona, for the location of the new animation studio because the state offered the company about $1 million in job training funds and low-interest loans for the state-of-the-art digital animation equipment with a staff of 300 artists and technicians, a third of whom worked with Bluth and Goldman in Dublin, Ireland, for Sullivan Bluth Studios.

For their first project, the studio insisted they select one out of a dozen existing properties which they owned where Bluth and Goldman suggested adapting "The King and I" & "My Fair Lady" even though Bluth and Goldman felt it would be impossible to improve on Audrey Hepburn's performance and Lerner and Loewe's score.

Following several story suggestions, the idea to adapt "Anastasia" originated from Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill Mechanic; they would later adapt story elements from Pygmalion with the peasant Anya being molded into a regal woman.

Early into production, Bluth and Goldman began researching the actual events through enlisting former CIA agents stationed in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Around this same time, screenwriter Eric Tuchman had written a script that was described as "very adult, very based in reality, all about politics, and without any magic or comedy." Eventually, Bluth and Goldman decided the history of Anastasia and the Romanov dynasty was too dark for their film.

In 1995, Bruce Graham and Susan Gauthier reworked Tuchman's script into a lighthearted romantic comedy. When Graham and Gauthier moved onto other projects, husband-and-wife screenwriting team Bob Tzudiker & Noni White were hired for additional rewrites.

For the villains, Bluth also did not take into consideration depicting Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and initially toyed with the idea of a police chief with a vendetta against Anastasia.

Instead, they decided to have Grigori Rasputin as the villain with Goldman explaining it was because of "all the different things they did to try to destroy Rasputin and what a horrible man he really was, the more it seemed appetizing to make him the villain."

In reality, Rasputin was already dead when the Romanovs were assassinated. In addition to this, Bluth created the idea for Bartok, the albino bat, as a sidekick for Rasputin.

According to Bluth: "I just thought the villain had to have a comic sidekick, just to let everyone know that it was all right to laugh. A bat seemed a natural friend for Rasputin. Making him a white bat came later - just to make him different."

Composers Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens recalled being at Au Bon Pain in New York City where Rasputin and Bartok were pitched, and being dismayed at the decision to go down a historically inaccurate route; they made their stage musical adaption "more sophisticated, more far-reaching, more political" to encompass their original vision.

CastingEdit

Don Bluth stated that Meg Ryan was his first and only choice for the title character, but Ryan was indecisive about accepting the role due to its dark historical events.

In order to persuade her, the animation team took an audio clip of Annie Reed from "Sleepless in Seattle" and created an animation reel based on it which was screened for her following an invitation to the studio. "I was blown away that they did that," Ryan later confessed, and accepted the role.

Before Meg Ryan was cast, Broadway singer and actress Liz Callaway was brought in to record several demos of the songs hoping to land a job in background vocals, but were liked well enough by the songwriters that were ultimately used in the final film.

John Cusack openly admitted after being cast that he couldn't sing, so his singing duties were performed by Jonathan Dokuchitz.

Peter O'Toole was considered for the role of Rasputin, but Christopher Lloyd was hired because of his involvement with the Back to the Future trilogy.

Bartok was initially written for Woody Allen, but the studio was reluctant to hire him following revelations of his relationship with his ex-partner Mia Farrow's adoptive daughter, Soon-Yi Previn. Martin Short was also considered for the role, but Hank Azaria won the role ten minutes into his audition.

MusicEdit

The film score was composed, co-orchestrated, and conducted by David Newman, whose father, Alfred Newman, composed the score of the 1956 film of the same name.

The songs (of which "Journey to the Past" was nominated for the Academy Award for "Best Original Song") were written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty.

The first song that they wrote for the project was "Once Upon a December"; it was written during a heatwave "so [they were] sweating and writing winter imagery."

The soundtrack to "Anastasia" was released in CD and audio cassette format on October 28, 1997.

ReleaseEdit

20th Century Fox scheduled for "Anastasia" to be released on November 21, 1997 (notably a week after the 1997 re-release of Disney's "The Little Mermaid").

Disney claimed it had long-planned for the seventeen-day re-release to coincide with a consumer products campaign leading into Christmas and the film's home video release in March of 1998, as well continue the tradition for re-releasing the film within a seven- to eight-year interval.

In addition to this, Disney would release several competing family films including "Flubber" on the following weekend, as well as a double feature of "George of the Jungle" and "Hercules".

As a response, Disney refused to advertise for "Anastasia" on the ABC program "The Wonderful World of Disney" and banned its corporate sponsors from airing clips of the movie during their television commercials.

Commenting on the fierce competition between the two films, a Disney spokesman brushed off allegations of studio rivalry, claiming: "We always re-release our movies around holiday periods."

However, Fox executives refused to believe Dreyer's statement with Bill Mechanic responding that "It's a deliberate attempt to be a bully, to kick sand in our face. They can't be trying to maximize their own business; the amount they're spending on advertising is ridiculous...It's a concentrated effort to keep our film from fulfilling its potential."

MarketingEdit

The film was accompanied with a marketing campaign at more than $50 million with promotional sponsors from Burger King, Dole Food Company, Hershey, Chesebrough-Ponds, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Shell Oil and the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Overall, the marketing costs exceeded that of Independence Day by more than 35 percent. For merchandising, Fox selected Galoob to license dolls based on Anastasia.

In August of 1997, the SeaWorld theme parks in San Diego and Orlando featured a 40-foot-long, 20-foot-high inflatable playground for children called "Anastasia's Kingdom."

Box OfficeEdit

A limited release of "Anastasia" opened at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on November 14, 1997, grossing $120,541 during its opening weekened.

The wide release of the film grossed $14,104,933 and debuted at #2 at the box office (behind "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation").

Domestically, it grossed $58,406,347 and $139,804,348 worldwide, making it Don Bluth's highest grossing film to date (beating out his 1988 film "The Land Before Time" by about $55,348,502) and becoming his first financially successful film since his 1989 film "All Dogs Go to Heaven."

ReceptionEdit

"Anastasia" received a positive reception from critics.

Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 85% based on 52 reviews with an average rating of 7.1/10. The website's consensus reads: "Beautiful animation, an affable take on Russian history, and strong voice performances make Anastasia a winning first film from Fox animation studios."

Roger Ebert awarded the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, writing: "The result is entertaining and sometimes exciting."

The Cincinnati Enquirer described Anastasia as "charming" and "entertaining", concluding, "Anastasia serves up a tasty tale about a fairy-tale princess."

Lisa Osbourne of Boxoffice called the film "pure family entertainment."

Awarding the film three out of five stars, Empire's Philip Thomas wrote, "Historical inaccuracies aside, Anastasia manages to be a charming little movie."

Several critics have drawn positive comparisons between "Anastasia" and the Disney films released during the Disney Renaissance, noting similarities in their story and animation styles.

Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle awarded the film three out of five stars. Likening its quality to that of a Disney animated film, Baumgarten wrote that the film "may not beat Disney at its own game, but it sure won't be for lack of trying."

Baumgarten continued, "[t]his sumptuous-looking film clearly spared no expense in its visual rendering; its optical flourishes and attention to detail aim for the Disney gold standard and, for the most part, come pretty darn close."

The Phoenix's Jeffrey Gantz jokingly stated, "[i]f imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks at Disney should feel royally complimented by Twentieth Century Fox's new animated feature about Tsar Nicholas II's youngest daughter."

Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Fox's challenge to the Disney empire is a beautifully animated musical." However, he continued, "Anastasia has the Disney house style down cold, yet the magic is missing."

Critical reception in Russia was also (for the most part) positive despite the artistic liberties that the film took with Russian history.

Gemini Films (the Russian distributor for the film) stressed the fact that the story was "not history," but rather "a fairy tale set against the background of real Russian events" in the film's Russian marketing campaign so that its Russian audience would not view Anastasia "as a historical film."

As a result, many Russians praised the film for its art and storytelling and saw it as "not so much a piece of history but another Western import to be consumed and enjoyed."

However, some Russian Orthodox Christians found "Anastasia" to be an offensive depiction of the Grand Duchess, who was canonized as a new martyr in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Many historians echoed their sentiments, criticizing the film as a "sanitized, sugar-coated reworking of the story of the Czar's youngest daughter."

While the filmmakers acknowledged the fact that "Anastasia uses history only as a starting point", others complained that the film would provide its audience with misleading facts about Russian history, which, according to the author and historian Suzanne Massie, "has been falsified for so many years."

Similarly, the amateur historian Bob Atchison said that Anastasia was akin to someone making a film in which Anne Frank "moves to Orlando and opens a crocodile farm with a guy named Mort."

Some of Anastasia's contemporary relatives also felt that the film was distasteful, but most Romanovs have come to accept the "repeated exploitation of Anastasia's romantic tale...with equanimity."