First published in the Holyoke Enterprise February 2, 2016
Many people think All Dogs Go to Heaven is a Disney movie. Same with The Secret of Nimh. Well, they’re not. They’re actually from the animation studio of Don Bluth, who did work for Disney for a time (Robin Hood and The Rescuers were two films he worked on), but Bluth’s films are in a league of their own. The animation is crisp and real, often blending computer animation with old-school hand-drawn cells. This is further illustrated (pardon the pun) in his 1997 film Anastasia.
Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan) is the daughter and Grand Duchess of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II. The Tsar is hosting a ball for Russia’s tricentennial that is suddenly interrupted by his former adviser and sorcerer Grigori Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), whom the Tsar banished for treason. To exact his revenge, Rasputin sells his soul (yikes) and places a curse on the Romanov family, which also sparks the Russian Revolution. The Romanovs are killed but Anastasia and her grandmother, the Dowager Empresses Marie (Angela Lansbury) are able to escape thanks to help from a kitchen boy named Dimitri (John Cusack). Rasputin chases them from the palace, but falls through the ice and freezes to death. Marie is able to board a train to Paris, but Anastasia falls and hits her head on the platform.
She develops amnesia and spends the next ten years living in an orphanage under the name Anya, unaware of her royalty. She decides to travel to the capital in St. Petersburg, inspired by a passage on the necklace she still has from her childhood. Dimitri and his friend Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer) find her exploring the abandoned palace and bring her, unwittingly, into their scheme to find a girl to pass off as Anastasia to the Empresses in Paris for the massive reward. But don’t worry; this is a love story after all and Dimitri changes his ways once he’s certain she’s the real Anastasia. Awww…
Hank Azaria also voices Bartok, Rasputin’s albino bat sidekick/pet and provides the comic relief for the film. Jim Cummings (voice of Winnie the Pooh and Jafar from Aladdin) also performs Rasputin’s songs and he’s just the best. To say this is a children’s movie would be a misnomer, in my opinion. This is a solid PG movie. There are elements of Rasputin’s magic and use of the dark arts that are pretty frightening, especially for little kids. And despite the musical numbers, there’s not a lot that they can really grab onto as from Bartok’s jokes. But if you’re a history buff and know anything about Rasputin and the Romanovs, this is a great film to watch. However, if your little ones have seen All Dogs Go to Heaven or The Land Before Time, they may very much enjoy this too. I know I did.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Snack Packs
Lincoln L. Hayes is a former writer and columnist of the Holyoke Enterprise. He does other things too, most of which you can find on his website: http://www.lincolnlhayes.com