On this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s My Fair Lady meets mysticism and murder. We go Once Upon a December to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the film, Anastasia.
Anya, a Russian orphan, who has no memory of her childhood, sets out on a journey to find her real family.
Along the way, she meets two con men, who convince Anya that she could be the surviving heir to the Romanov family, the lost Princess Anastasia.
While dodging the vengeful, murderous, Rasputin, Anya is schooled in everything Romanov, in the hopes that she can convince the Grand Duchess that she is the real Princess Anastasia.
A Not So Far Back Journey to the Past
It seems like Anastasia should be a film in my nostalgic, childhood, memory vault, but twenty years ago, I was in college.
There are some animated films, like Coraline , My Neighbor Totoro, or Kiki’s Delivery Service, that I wish I could have viewed through the lens of childlike wonder, but Anastasia premiered at exactly the right time in my life.
The summer between my first and second years of college, I decided to get one of my history requirements out of the way.
Dr. Ferris was one of those professors who threw stuffy textbooks aside. He was a storyteller, and conveyed all of the information he thought we should know through notes on the board, and stories. For the first time in my life, I didn’t view history as dates and facts. History was about people, the fascinating characters who set in motion so many events, good or bad. Dr. Ferris loved Prussian/Russian history, so by the time Anastasia debuted in November of 1997, I was primed.
In the spring after Anastasia, I took an Art Appreciation class with a professor who sounded exactly like Rasputin’s bat sidekick, Bartok. I had an impossible time separating the two. I pretty much spent the whole class imagining a giant bat was teaching me about Rembrandt and Van Gough.
During the time when I was in college, there was no optimism like young adult optimism. You could have dreams as a child or teenage, but in the 80s and early 90s, you didn’t have many tools or resources to achieve your dreams. In college however, the world of adulthood, and technology, opened up, and anything seemed possible. Career, love, side passion projects, everything felt within reach, as long as you focused and worked hard enough.
Much like Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Anya is a girl who wants anything but an ordinary life. In the song Journey to the Past, Anya sings about not settling, and stepping out to achieve her goals. That was my mind set during my second year of college. As I gazed up at the screen, watching Anya sing her way to her dreams, I had a character bonding moment that I may not have had if I saw the film as a child or teen.
I’m happy that Anastasia came out at the perfect moment in my life.
I’ve always felt that the scenes involving Rasputin were wonky. As a villain, his temperamental whining, and the fact that his body is constantly falling apart, gets old quick. He’s used for both comic relief and to add action into the story, but I’m not sure either was needed.
The musical numbers in particular, have a straight up, old-fashioned, stage, musical feel. The Learn to do It number especially, has a Singing in the Rain, White Christmas, vibe.
I would have preferred if Anastasia was presented as a My Fair Lady-esque, old fashioned musical. There are plenty of stakes already between the romance, and having to convince everyone that Anya is the Princess. If it needed a little more danger, then perhaps add in more political dangers, like being caught with forged papers, or perhaps add in the secret police, on the trio’s tail to arrest Dimitri the con artist.
I suppose the kids need train crashes and near drownings to keep them entertained, but as a lover of history, I think the story of the Romanovs, and the lore and mystery behind Princess Anastasia, is a captivating story in and of itself, without demon minions, clunky villain/sidekick banter, and Rasputin’s limbs falling off every five minutes.
The Lost Princess
I respected Anya’s stubborn, take charge attitude. She’s no princess in distress. I thought Meg Ryan was an excellent choice to voice Anya.
Ryan’s witty, sarcastic, banter is easily recognized. As Anya takes no guff from Dimitri, it’s hard not to picture When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, or You’ve Got Mail.
The romance in the story isn’t overly sappy, it just is what it is. It was an excellent choice, that reflected upon Anya’s no nonsense demeanor.
I’m still not sure the epic action scene at the end was necessary. It felt more like an afterthought, after Anya achieved her goal of finding her real family, but I do like one choice made in the scene.
Although Dimitri assists Anya through much of the battle with Rasputin, Dimitri gets knocked unconscious. It is Anya who has the final showdown with Rasputin, avenging her family, and administering the blow of final defeat.
So essentially, not only is Anastasia about being brave enough to take the steps needed to follow your dreams, it is also about the need to conquer your demons along the way.
In the end, I have conflicting feelings about Anastasia.
The songs are some of my favorite out of all animated features. I listened to the soundtrack for three months straight when the film first came out. I can still belt out a passionate Journey to the Past in my car when no one is around.
I continue to have a bond with Anya, and although twenty years later, my dreams and ambitions have changed, I continue to find the main themes of Anastasia inspiring.
I still have a hard time with the shoved in, forced, action scenes, and the boring, annoying, underdeveloped villain.
Although it’s not a perfect animated film by any means, in the end, twenty years later, Anastasia still holds up, and is a worthy view.