Finally, here's proof an animated film doesn't have to be Disney to be good.
"Anastasia," the new feature-length animation from 20th Century Fox about a princess whose destiny finds her, is every bit as good as most of its Disney predecessors and better than many. Filled with sparkling animation and appealing characters, it's a film that should keep the kids happy and their parents entertained -- even as it leaves historians with their mouths agape.
The story opens in the waning days of Czarist Russia, as young Anastasia (voiced by Kirsten Dunst) is at a grand ball with her family. Outside, however, things look bleak: the evil monk Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) has sworn vengeance on the Romanovs, and soon revolutionaries have broken down the door and grabbed the czar and his family -- all save Anastasia, who escapes with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury, everyone's favorite grandmother). Tragically, the two are separated at the train station, as the empress escapes to Paris and young Anastasia is left behind.
Ten years pass, and we find the grown-up princess (an extra-saucy Meg Ryan) living as Anya in an orphanage, with no knowledge of who she is. Finding her way to St. Petersburg, she hooks up with two con men, Dimitri and Vladimir (John Cusack and Kelsey Grammer), who detect a resemblance to the young princess and see a golden opportunity to obtain the huge reward offered by the empress for the return of her granddaughter.
So it's off to Paris for a reunion, provided the evil Rasputin doesn't get to Anastasia first.
A tremendous amount of care went into the animation of "Anastasia." Producer-directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, who cut their teeth at the Disney studios (they left together in 1979), have come up with some of the most luscious animated sequences since "Beauty and the Beast." Especially impressive is a fantasy sequence in the abandoned Russian Winter Palace, as Anya's memory begins coming back, and a harrowing train wreck.
Unfortunately, the songs by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are no better than OK. And the final confrontation between jTC Anastasia and Rasputin is pretty intense, maybe too much so for some small children.
Also, "Anastasia" is lousy history. The idea that the youngest of the Romanov girls somehow escaped the Bolshevik firing squad may be appealing, but it's pure myth. The notion that, 10 years after the Russian Revolution, the country's peasants were singing in the streets about how much they missed the czar may stretch credulity as well. And Rasputin, who was murdered before the Russian revolution, never hated the Romanovs as the film insists.
So don't go to "Anastasia" expecting a history lesson. Go expecting a good story, wonderful animation and decent music, and you'll love every minute.
Starring the voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd and Kelsey Grammer
Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
Released by 20th Century Fox
Sun score: ***
Pub Date: 11/21/97