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IN SHORT: Cranky was surprised. He liked it.
And the reason I was surprised is that, in the past, I have found Don Bluth's animated films too cloying and cute. But Cranky tries hard not to make comparisons, so off we go...
The problem with creating an animated feature is that it takes a great amount of time to make them. Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, creators of Anastasia must have freaked when the real life mystery of whether or not the woman calling herself Anastasia was, indeed, the daughter of the murdered Czar of Russia. DNA evidence proved she wasn't. PBS ran a very good documentary on the discovery of the Czar's remains and subsequent testing last year. It still runs from time to time.
Then again, the villain of this movie is Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) who, in real life, was murdered long before the Czar. Regardless of reality, Bluth and Goldman have delivered a movie which, at times, is absolutely spectacular. When it's not, it's still a damn fine piece of work.
If you've read any Cranky reviews of animated movies, you know a) I am a fiend when it comes to the form and b) with one exception, I've always wound up bitching about the same thing. In this case I'm gonna bitch again. I'll save it for the end.
In the fantasy world of Anastasia, the Royal Court at St. Petersburg is "filled with enchantment...with parties." A curse on the Royal family by the evil Rasputin brings the Kingdom down. Only the 8-year-old Anastasia (Kirsten Dunst) and her grandmother escape the doom that befalls the family, aided by Dimitri, a kitchen boy. Ten years later the city is a gloomy place and...
...waitasec. Cranky's Great-Grandfather was in service to the Czar at St. Petersburg, and it wasn't such a great place if you weren't wearing diamonds on your head. OK, Ten years later...
...there's a large reward outstanding to anyone who can reunite the Dowager Empress Marie (that's grandma, Angela Lansbury) and Anastasia. Needless to say, there are a lot of fakers and schemers wanting the cash, including the grown Dimitri (John Cusack) and comic conspirator Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer), who convince an 18 year old amnesiac named Anya (Meg Ryan) to play the role. Anya will be "trained" during the journey to the Empress' home in Paris, and the key to their scheme is a music box given by Grandma to granddaughter. But writing in Limbo is Rasputin, who sold his soul in exchange for the demise of the royals, but never "died". He vows to bring a quick demise to the girl he recognizes as the Last of the Romanovs.
That's about all you need to know. Anastasia tosses in a full complement of action sequences and spectacular set pieces -- there's the equivalent of a crane shot of the city that is breathtaking, and the party sequences ain't blowing smoke. There are also the required cute animals, an albino bat named Bartok (voiced by Hank Azaria, who can't decide whether to do a Russian accent or the dog-walker character he does on TV's "Mad About You") who is comic relief to Rasputin, and a cute dog named Pooka, who does the Lassie shtick.
Fiend time: While the big scenes are spectacular, the animation on specific characters doesn't "look" right. This is more obvious on the Anastasia character, whose body doesn't react properly to the songs she sings and whose lips can't always keep up with the stream of dialog. Dimitri is more on the mark. Frankly, had it not been for the unceasing torrent of songs, Cranky probably wouldn't have noticed.
The songs all sound very much like clones of big show songs. Any of them could've come out of the mouths of Julie Andrews, or Angela Lansbury or Tim Curry (Rasputin's big number "In the Dark of the Night" had the feel of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, if not the innuendo) and, as with most every animated flick I've seen, there's way too many of 'em. Just when you think you've had enough, another one comes blasting out of the screen. The first four story songs set up everything very nicely but enough is enough.
Much stronger is the script: a story of a broken family reunited, of bad guys doing "the right thing," and evil guys meeting an appropriate end. The three year old behind me was scared silly, and Cranky actually got misty over the emotions running rampant in the reunion of Anya/Anastasia and her Grandma.
The biggest surprise of all is that, all dressed up, the grown up Anastasia is a dead ringer for Audrey Hepburn, and no Russian ever looked that good....
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for Anastasia, he would have paid . . .
Damn think almost made Cranky cry. Cranky hates that.
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