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Anastasia (1997)

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It's been *gulp* 20 years since Anya's Journey To The Past. Now the animated film is a Broadway musical...but has the original stood the test of time?

 

I say yes. Much as folks criticized Don Bluth for selling out with this one, I think it still has enough of his signature style to be considered a valid entry in his filmography.

 

Great cast, songs and storytelling.

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With the exception of Mulan, it was a better Disney movie than any movie Disney put out post-Lion King.

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Loved this movie! I was 10 when it came out and I got so excited that I wanted to read about the real Anastasia and see if she was really out there.

That turned out to be a mistake. When I found out what happened I was so traumatized that my parents took me to the movie just to calm me down.

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This is still one of my favorite animated movies. It is so freaking good and still makes me teary eyed.

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I still remember Aaliyah singing "Journey to the Past" at the Oscars.

God, she could sing.

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17 hours ago, starri said:

With the exception of Mulan, it was a better Disney movie than any movie Disney put out post-Lion King.

It's not a Disney movie. It's 20th Century Fox.

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I think they meant a better "Disney" movie....

 

....but no. Hunchback was awesome. Tarzan was awesome as well. I'd put Anastasia on equal footing with Tarzan at least.

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21 hours ago, Spartan Girl said:

Loved this movie! I was 10 when it came out and I got so excited that I wanted to read about the real Anastasia and see if she was really out there.

That turned out to be a mistake. When I found out what happened I was so traumatized that my parents took me to the movie just to calm me down.

I never thought about it as a kid, but as an adult who is a history buff, I am baffled that they made an animated kids musical about a murdered young princess who was an actual person. It is just such a tragic story in actuality, especially considering the turmoil Russia went though leading up to and after their murders.

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11 minutes ago, MadyGirl1987 said:

I never thought about it as a kid, but as an adult who is a history buff, I am baffled that they made an animated kids musical about a murdered young princess who was an actual person. It is just such a tragic story in actuality, especially considering the turmoil Russia went though leading up to and after their murders.

I was already a young adult when this movie came out and refused to watch it when it came out because I'd read about the Romanovs, not to mention I'd watched that ridiculous TV movie with Amy Irving, based on the woman (who turned out to be a fraud) claiming to be the Princess Anastasia. That movie led me to read up on the history. Peter Maas's book about them was riveting.

I think I did end up watching it years later-Meg Ryan and John Cusak, right?

Edited by GHScorpiosRule
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8 hours ago, MadyGirl1987 said:

I never thought about it as a kid, but as an adult who is a history buff, I am baffled that they made an animated kids musical about a murdered young princess who was an actual person. It is just such a tragic story in actuality, especially considering the turmoil Russia went though leading up to and after their murders.

 

8 hours ago, GHScorpiosRule said:

I was already a young adult when this movie came out and refused to watch it when it came out because I'd read about the Romanovs, not to mention I'd watched that ridiculous TV movie with Amy Irving, based on the woman (who turned out to be a fraud) claiming to be the Princess Anastasia. That movie led me to read up on the history. Peter Maas's book about them was riveting.

I think I did end up watching it years later-Meg Ryan and John Cusak, right?

I wish I had done the same thing. I'm still baffled as to why they chose the story and wondered how people felt when they grew up and learned what really happened. As I kid I read stories about the cute family, with cute kids who were sadly murdered but left out big parts of the story and same with the early movies from very early cinema, the parents and their poor children were always portrayed as good, saintly and victims of other people (still true about the kids). It wasn't until I read my first book on Russian history on the subject that I learned about the Revolution and Nicholas's reign. Boy that was a surprise. I would have been nice to know that from the beginning,  

Edited by andromeda331

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This movie made me delve into the history as well, especially the Grand Duchesses. I know they're long gone, but my younger self grew very attached to them. As a result, I don't know how to feel about the movie anymore. They are currently doing a Broadway show of it too It feels exploitative. 

2 hours ago, GHScorpiosRule said:

Peter Maas's book about them was riveting.

I had to look this one up, but Peter Maas does not seem to have a book on them. Did you mean Robert Massie's Nicholas & Alexandra? That is the book I recommend to all history buffs as well. 

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9 minutes ago, Vera said:

I had to look this one up, but Peter Maas does not seem to have a book on them. Did you mean Robert Massie's Nicholas & Alexandra? That is the book I recommend to all history buffs as well. 

D'OH! Yes, Robert K. Massie. But it was The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. And I loved it so much, I also got Nicholas & Alexandra. I also have one about Rasputin, but can't recall the author-I'm too lazy to get it to check. It's so fascinating that it seems everyone believed that one woman, whose real name I can't recall, because there was also a movie starring Ingrid Bergman, playing an amnesiac Princess Anastasia. There were a number of women who claimed to be her over the years, but the Amy Irving one was the one who convinced everyone, and it wasn't until her death and DNA testing, that the truth came out. 

Oops, didn't mean to go off-topic.  Point is, knowing what I know, I couldn't and wouldn't watch a fantasy version of the family. 

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It's so strange that this thread would pop up right when I'm having a resurgence of feelings about "Anastasia" (which came out when I was about twelve, and completely dominated my internal imaginative world for that entire year). Watching it again recently I'm SO happy that it's stood the test of time - and in fact, I've noticed so many more good things about it. Anya's character development in particular is beautifully drawn out through her physical journey from St Petersburg to Paris - you can see how much she grows and matures as she reclaims her memories, and motifs like the music box and dancing provide natural visual stepping stones for that internal/external voyage. With the exception of Belle, Tiana and (most recently) Moana, I prefer her to any other Disney Princess. 

And the film doesn't stint on her love interest's character development either: Dimitri goes from a cynical con-artist to a true believer in love - when you look at Disney's fairytales most of their princes are complete cyphers. Only the Beast and Naveen come close to getting an arc like Dimitri's. And I read an article from Don Bluth recently in which he claims he deliberately tried to "normalize" Dimitri's character design by making his hair messy and his nose crooked - only for that to backfire spectacularly when it was combined with John Cusack's vocal talents. He was definitely the hottest animated dude of the 1990s. 

What hasn't aged well? Rasputin, who feels like he belongs in a completely different film from everyone else. I think they could have cut him out entirely and focused solely on Anya's journey and her relationships with Dimitri and her grandmother, which is where all the emotional heft was anyway. Having listened to the Broadway soundtrack, I don't blame them for dropping his character. 

And that final scene of Anya and Dimitri dancing together on the deck of the ship ... watching it again after so many years, I nearly cried. It's so joyful and pure, and knowing that the real Anastasia died with the rest of her family only makes it more heartbreaking. I know others upthread have said the story is a bit exploitative, but seeing a version of Anastasia - even a fictional one - getting the chance to escape the revolution and fall in love and move forward into the future ... I'd like to think the spirit of the real Anastasia would be okay with that. 

Edited by Ravenya003
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Once Upon a December is gut wrenching. 

I also remember trying to find any books I could about the real Anastasia in my middle school library and being horrified when I learned the truth.

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On 7/30/2017 at 5:48 AM, GHScorpiosRule said:

 It's so fascinating that it seems everyone believed that one woman, whose real name I can't recall

Anna Anderson.

For anyone interested in the GDs, I would also recommend Helen Azar's books. She has published selected translations of the diaries and letters of OTMA. The Big Pair get their own books while the Little Pair get one together. From what I understand, GD Maria and Anastasia destroyed their diaries while at Tobolsk. GD Olga and Tatiana had stopped writing while still at Tsarkoe Selo, but their diaries up to that point and correspondences after that remain. 

I was younger than Alexei when I first watched this movie. I'm now older than Olga when she died. 

Edited by Vera
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Oh I LOVED this movie when I was little, and it inspired my childhood obsession with historical princesses. Granted, I had literally no context for the historical stuff behind the story (in my history classes in school Russia pretty much just appeared out of nowhere during the Cold War), but I thought it was such a great story, and I loved Anastasia and her cute dog sidekick, and the songs were super catchy and fun. My parents had to give me a quick and awkward talking about what really happened. Later, I picked up one of the Royal Diary books, the one about Anastacia, and I was horrified to realize what actually happened. Not only did real Anastasia die with the rest of her family, but, well, it wasn't an evil wizard that made people super pissed off at her father and the ruling class. That doesn't make what happened to them right, by any means, but her father was hardly an innocent victim of a diabolical villain either. Anastasia and her siblings were certainly innocent victims though.

In retrospect, its just so weird that they decided to make this movie, adding a bunch of magic Not Disney princess stuff to this true historical story, and reduced a VERY complex and tragic situation into a fairy tale with a pretty princess and an evil wizard (also based on a real guy!) with a talking bat sidekick and a happy ending. Of course, its not like this was the only movie to take a historical event and change it around to make a more palatable film, but its so strange to make a kids movie out of it. I'm sure my parents weren't the only ones who had to have a fairly depressing and awkward conversation with their kids about the real story of Anastasia after watching this.

Is it weird that this thread makes me want to watch this again?

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On 7/29/2017 at 0:44 PM, DisneyBoy said:

....but no. Hunchback was awesome. Tarzan was awesome as well. I'd put Anastasia on equal footing with Tarzan at least.

Nah.  Mulan, The Prince of Egypt, and Anastasia were the best "Disney" movies of the latter 90s.

The problem was the ODing on the cute sidekicks.  I mean, Rasputin and Bartok are completely unnecessary to Anastasia, but they just need them to be Jaffar and Iago.  And to sell merchandise, in Bartok's case.

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Prince of Egypt was weak from what I recall. Tarzan was excellent. Come on now...really? LOL.

Go watch it again and quit hating on Turk and we'll talk.

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The Prince of Egypt is one of the best animated films out there that wasn't from Disney, imo. I never cared for Anastasia. Rasputin is the main reason why. It seems so stuck on copying the Disney formula down to the letter that it forced an unneeded villain in there who isn't even as entertaining as most Disney villains. Another thing is I've always found Meg Ryans' voice incredibly annoying. I do enjoy the music, and Liz Callaway has such a pretty voice. I should probably check out the Broadway show sometime.

Edited by TheGreenKnight
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On ‎8‎/‎1‎/‎2017 at 8:14 AM, Vera said:

Anna Anderson.

For anyone interested in the GDs, I would also recommend Helen Azar's books. She has published selected translations of the diaries and letters of OTMA. The Big Pair get their own books while the Little Pair get one together. From what I understand, GD Maria and Anastasia destroyed their diaries while at Tobolsk. GD Olga and Tatiana had stopped writing while still at Tsarkoe Selo, but their diaries up to that point and correspondences after that remain. 

I was younger than Alexei when I first watched this movie. I'm now older than Olga when she died. 

I read those they were pretty good.

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Guys I just watched this again last night, and it's so damn good.

Okay, all the stuff about Rasputin is stupid and unnecessary, but when you're focusing on the triumvirate of Anya, Dimitri and the Dowager Empress, the levels of emotion and angst are off the charts!

Just the whole concept of Dimitri saving Anastasia's life as a child, then growing up to be bitter and cynical and wanting to cash-in on the Empress's desperate search for her missing grand-daughter and thinking he's hit the jackpot when he finds amnesiac Anya, only for him to get hit with a karmic jackhammer when he realizes he's in love with her at the exact same moment he realizes she actually IS Anastasia because she remembers him rescuing her as a little girl in a moment only THEY knew about.

So knowing a con-artist can never be with a princess, but realizing he has to do right not just for her sake but to salvage his own soul, he straight up KIDNAPS the Empress and forces her to speak to Anya by showing her a music box he's been carrying around for years, not knowing that Anya has had the key to opening it this WHOLE TIME, which finally unlocks her memories and reunites the last of the Romanovs, all at the cost of his own romantic hopes - that's a fantastic redemptive/emotional arc!

Also, watching as an adult makes me realize how appreciative I am of the fact that when Anya finds out that Dimitri has been using her as part of his con she actually gets to SLAP him (really hard!) in the face. He did her dirty, she has every right to be furious, and he totally deserved that slap (even though he makes up for it afterwards). So many films/shows are terrified of their heroines being righteously angry; that a woman at least partly modeled on a Disney Princess got to react in that way is pretty remarkable, even today.

Maybe being in pandemic lockdown is doing weird things to my brain, but this is solid gold material (it makes me all the more frustrated that they wasted so much narrative real estate on Rasputin). All those awful Disney live action remakes, yet THIS is what they should be focusing on. I'd definitely pay for a decent movie that combines the Anya/Dimitri/Empress relationships of the movie with the villain of the musical (a Bolshevik commander trying to hunt down the last Romanov). 

Edited by Ravenya003
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I like this movie, too. I remember watching it constantly when I was younger :). 

Strong cast, too. Lots of great names in this. 

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Yes, it's revisionist history but this movie is brilliant. It does what good art is supposed to do, borrow from other people in a smart way. There's definitely some "It Happened One Night" in there. And of course, it's based on a play. I'm sure there are other influences I'm not picking up on. It's a movie that doesn't talk down to children and teaches them how to watch an adult story. It's like a book for adults that doesn't have difficult words or explicit content so children can appreciate it. There's a level of sophistication to it. 

Also, seeing the musical, which I still believe had to make changes because of legal issues with the rights to the play the movie was based on, made me love the original movie script more. The development of Dimitri and Anya's relationship is beautifully done from

Spoiler

when he's a kitchen boy first watching her get the necklace, to him helping them escape the palace, to him deciding to use her for the money, to him starting to believe she is Anastasia, to the way he uses the music box with Anya and Marie, to how he walks away from the money, to how he comes back...

It's really elegant writing. For a ninety minute movie, you're never lost. Everything tracks the whole time but it isn't overly simplistic. It's not just like... this is the bad guy, let's go punch the bad guy. 

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2 hours ago, aradia22 said:

Also, seeing the musical, which I still believe had to make changes because of legal issues with the rights to the play the movie was based on, made me love the original movie script more.

Yeah, as much as I enjoyed the musical, it takes all the BITE out of Anya/Dimitri's love story, starting from the fact that Anya knows the whole time that Dimitri/Vlad are holding auditions and that reward money is on the table if Anastasia is returned to her grandmother (which means there's no betrayal or need for Dimitri to redeem himself), to the fact that Dimitri coincidentally buys the music box on a whim (instead of knowing who it belongs to, and losing the symbolism of Anya carrying the other half of it for ten years - they were always destined to come together) to the show having to lose the whole desperate heroism he demonstrates when he jumps in the Empress's car and essentially kidnaps her so that she's forced to recognize Anya.

I mean, I'd glad they got a duet in the musical (and "A Crowd of Thousands" is a beautiful song), but "they saw each other at a parade once" doesn't quite pack the same punch as what the film puts them through to reach that deserved happy ending. 

Edited by Ravenya003
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I'd had no idea there was a musical version of this until this thread, but now you all mention it, it makes obvious sense there would be one. Now I'm curious to read up more on that!

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The soundtrack is so solid. I used to love this movie when I was a kid. My mom still likes to remind me frequently of asking her on vacation in St, Petersburg, Florida if that was where Anastasia went missing because I didn't realize that St. Petersburg was in Russia. 

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On 4/9/2020 at 3:43 AM, Ravenya003 said:

Yeah, as much as I enjoyed the musical, it takes all the BITE out of Anya/Dimitri's love story, starting from the fact that Anya knows the whole time that Dimitri/Vlad are holding auditions and that reward money is on the table if Anastasia is returned to her grandmother (which means there's no betrayal or need for Dimitri to redeem himself), to the fact that Dimitri coincidentally buys the music box on a whim (instead of knowing who it belongs to, and losing the symbolism of Anya carrying the other half of it for ten years - they were always destined to come together) to the show having to lose the whole desperate heroism he demonstrates when he jumps in the Empress's car and essentially kidnaps her so that she's forced to recognize Anya.

To me, that would be an improvement, since it always strained credibility that Anya thought Dimitri and Vlad had no ulterior motives.  They were earnestly searching for Anastasia... just because?  

Also, I never understood why Anya reserved all of her anger for Dimitri and none for Vlad, despite the fact that he was involved with the scheme, too. 

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16 hours ago, Brn2bwild said:

To me, that would be an improvement, since it always strained credibility that Anya thought Dimitri and Vlad had no ulterior motives.  They were earnestly searching for Anastasia... just because?  

In the film, she may have presumed there was some sort of reward on offer, but she definitely didn't know about the audition process - in fact, it's not until they're halfway to France that she finds out she's going to be vetted by the Empress's cousin and so agrees to learn about Anastasia's background - it's pretty clear from the start that her main goal is just to get to Paris, and she's playing along with whatever Vlad/Dimitri suggest in order to achieve this. It's a bit of a "don't ask, don't tell" situation, since both parties are using the other for their own gain. 

But at one point Vlad confides in her that he was once a member of the Russian court, so - yeah, there is a chance that she believes he's the instigator of this plan, and is doing so out of loyalty to the royal family. "I might be Anastasia and these guys are hoping to get something out of it" is a very different assumption than "they know I'm not for real, and they're grooming me as part of an elaborate con." 

In the musical, she knows about the auditions and the reward from the start (the song "Learn to Do It" is the like, the fourth song in the show) - in fact, the villain Gleb spells it out to her that she's either partaking in a cruel hoax, or her life is in danger from the Bolsheviks if it turns out she's really the lost princess. She and Dimitri also realize she's truly Anastasia at exactly the same time, which is well before they go to see the Empress, so there's no big explosion at the ballet when Anya thinks he's been gaslighting her into believing she's Anastasia/using her as a pawn in his scheme since they met.  

Quote

Also, I never understood why Anya reserved all of her anger for Dimitri and none for Vlad, despite the fact that he was involved with the scheme, too.

Well, she was in love with Dimitri by that point, so it hurt more realizing the betrayal came from him. And Anya never gets the chance to yell at Vlad because he completely disappears from the story once Dimitri rejects the money!

I do agree though it's bizarre that Vlad gets off scot-free. He's a complicit and knowing partner in the scheme and is never held accountable for it.  She does get the chance to call him out in the musical - though again, it doesn't have quite the same bite to it, as she fully knew what she was getting into.

If we could combine the best parts of the film (the love story, the redemption arc, the runaway train set-piece) with the best parts of the musical (no Rasputin, more historical accuracy, better characterization for Vlad, Sophie/Lily, Empress Marie) then we'd have a perfect movie.

Edited by Ravenya003
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On 4/13/2020 at 5:42 AM, starri said:

I guess Anastasia is a Disney Princess now?

Technically yes, though I seriously doubt she'll ever feature in the official Princess line-up.

Which is fine by me, since another great element of the film is that she gives up the gilded cage and chooses a life of freedom instead. A couple of Disney princesses have married down (Rapunzel, Jasmine) but they've still remained in the glitz and wealth (and responsibilities) of royal life. Anya is the only one who escapes into the real world. 

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On 4/11/2020 at 7:11 PM, Ravenya003 said:

If we could combine the best parts of the film (the love story, the redemption arc, the runaway train set-piece) with the best parts of the musical (no Rasputin, more historical accuracy, better characterization for Vlad, Sophie/Lily, Empress Marie) then we'd have a perfect movie.

If you haven't already, you should check out the 1956 film version starring Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner. It's the same basic storyline, with a few differences, and Brynner has a much more commanding presence than John Cusack's counterpart character. I saw this version years before the animated one, and have always liked it more. The scene at the end with Bergman's Anastasia and her Grandmother (played by Helen Hayes) also makes me tear up. 

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