Fox vs. Disney
Anastasia (starring the voices of Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Christopher Lloyd) is Twentieth Century Fox’s attempt to out-Disney Disney. It’s an enjoyable 90 minutes, but it never approaches the so-beautiful-you-have-to-cry sequences that have become Disney’s trademark, such as the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast or The Lion King‘s “Circle of Life” opening number.
Anastasia is visually gorgeous in places, a combination of hand-drawn and computer animation. Unfortunately, it’s the backgrounds that are the most beautiful — scenes of snow-covered landscapes, the skylines of St. Petersburg and Paris, and the abandoned Romanov palace after the revolution are luminous.
Anastasia‘s heroes, Anya and Dmitri, on the other hand, have curiously bland faces — and considering all the close-ups we get of them that are meant to convey some emotion or other, some livelier expressions would have been welcome. (The way their bodies move is amazing, I must admit. Having just watched Grosse Pointe Blank, I was struck by how much Dmitri looks like John Cusack walking and running and gesturing. And Anya’s indecisiveness is demonstrated by very Meg Ryan-esque throwing up of the arms.) Here’s where Fox’s animators should have taken a cue from Disney. The face of Pocahontas‘s Captain John Smith quirks up in ways that are unmistakably Mel Gibson, Uncle Scar in The Lion King looks just like Jeremy Irons, Beauty and the Beast‘s Lumiere draws much of his charm from Jerry Orbach’s wonderful face, and so on. Bartok the bat (voiced by the brilliant Hank Azaria) is the most expressive — and most charming — character in Anastasia — and he’s the bad guy’s henchman.
Speaking of bad guys, Rasputin (Lloyd) is in the Disney league. He spends much of the movie in Hell, half-dead, singing his evil songs with a chorus of insectoid little demons, his body falling to pieces in gross ways. If I were five years old again, I might have as many nightmares featuring Rasputin as I did after Fantasia or Snow White.
The real Rasputin wasn’t quite so literally a devil, I know, and some people take issue with Anastasia‘s historical inaccuracies, but clearly this is a fairy tale. Of course, the real Anastasia did die as a child, but Anastasia the film is about every child’s fantasy of being long-lost royalty, of finding the high-born family we’ve gotten separated from (the here-and-now family being too weird to have possibly spawned us). And naturally in the real world, Rasputin did not cause the fall of the Romanovs with an evil curse — but that is a nice metaphor for Russia’s failed experiment with communism.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that.