In 1918, the entire Russian royal family is executed by the Bolsheviks although a rumour persists that Anastasia, Nicholas's II daughter, has survived. Her grandmother now living in Paris is desperately trying to find her and has offered a hefty award to whomever finds her and brings her to France. Dmitri, a young black-market dealer, sees in this a great opportunity to get out of Russia and start a new life in France with the money - he sets out to find the best Anastasia look-alike in St Petersburg to hopefully fool the old lady and get the bounty... Meanwhile the real Anastasia has just left an orphanage and, suffering from some form of amnesia, remembers very little of her childhood. She sets off for St. Petersburg to try to find out something about her past whilst Rasputin stuck in limbo is preparing to finish off the final member of the Romanoff family...
Although taking a relatively debatable political standpoint (was Rasputin the only reason for the October revolution? Was the royalty as benevolent as they are portrayed here?) and using the easy fairy tale manichean opposition of good (Anastasia) against bad (Rasputin), the film is quite a pleasant viewing experience. Thanks to a good mix of computer and cell animation and an interesting casting of some top notch actors to voice the various characters: Meg Ryan and John Cusack play the two lead characters with Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters and Angela Langsbury making up the rest of the cast. The story line takes us through constantly varying scenery and is quite a feast for the eyes. This first time effort by the Fox studios is proof that the Disney formula can be improved upon and re-invented without looking like a sub-quality imitation. The songs were written by the Broadway team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty and despite some of them being a little tacky (especially the Moulin Rouge one), they are quite enjoyable and manage the rare feat of not constantly setting my teeth on edge. The film has enough qualities to not put the adults to sleep (although I suspect I'd be struggling by the 5th viewing!) whilst being exciting and amusing enough to keep the children interested...
The film is presented in the original aspect ration of 2.35:1 which is a real plus: too often studios have a tendency to go for either a pan-and-scan version or an in-between ratio for films aimed at children. The image is clean and virtually blemish free. At times there was a certain amount of grain visible but artifcating was kept to a minimum and the colours are vivid and resplendent. A good quality job done by the transfer team here.
The soundtrack has been given a 5.1 mix with the dialogue tending to be placed in the center with a few nice surround effects being put in for good measure. I suspect a conservative approach to the mixing was applied here to avoid confusing children.
These are quite nice overall with snow constantly falling over the main one and with nice whimsical transitions. A really nice touch...
These are quite numerous but are mostly aimed at children so there is no director's commentary in sight. However we do get two featurettes one 7 minutes long and another 22 minutes long- the short one being an edited version of the longer one. The late Aaliyah hosts the long featurette which goes through the making of the movie with interviews from the cast, the filmmakers and the musicians involved. What is surprising it that the image quality of some of the footage used mostly the interviews are incredibly pixellated and grainy to the extent that it makes these features like some bootleg copy. Despite having it's backslapping moments, there are a few interesting moments (such as John Cusack explaining à la Woody Allen why he didn't do his character's singing) but really it's only worth watching once.
After these relatively technical extras we get to what will be of real interest for children: we have a sing-along for two of the movies musical numbers ( "You can learn to do it" and "Once upon a November"), three puzzles and a multi-language reel of two of the songs being sung in close to twenty languages. Again the image quality is relatively poor on these features and are all featured in fullscreen. Overall, the extras are acceptable without being exceptional.
Anastasia is an interesting enough film for the entire family although parents who are not keen on their children seeing films that involve witchcraft (i.e black magic, dead coming to haunt the living, people selling their souls to the devil) should avoid this film as a major part of it does revolve around these themes. The film's transfer is widescreen so, although film fans will applaud this type of release, this can be a turn off for some. Despite these possible quibbles, this is a quality release of a good children's movie.