Kicking off Animation Confabulation’s series of guest favourites is my friend @Fiercy_27, or Fiona as she’s known outside of twitter, writing about why Anastasia is her favourite animated film. It’s an unexpected choice – I don’t remember anything about this film from primary school days, and haven’t seen it since – but that’s what makes a good Guest Favourite post. It’s a film that I’m unlikely to write about, it’s clearly something she loves, and it brings a different voice to the blog so you aren’t always reading my annoying voice. If you have a favourite animated film (outside of Disney or Ghibli), and would like to write about it, I’d like to make Guest Favourites a regular thing, so let me know on Twitter, Facebook or in the comments. No previous experience necessary.
Anastasia, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s (of Land Before Time fame) 1997 animation is a simple story at its heart: orphan girl longs to find family, meets boy who helps her on her way, finds long lost grandmother, falls in love with boy, defeats arch-nemesis in the process and lives happily ever after. However when we add in that said girl is actually the mythic last surviving Russian Romanov Princess, the eponymous Anastasia, the story becomes a little more nuanced. This complexity is perhaps the reason the film is, in my opinion, such a success. Bluth and Goldman both learned their trade working on animations from Disney’s golden age and this really shows in the subtle layers of the movie; how its success is due to composite parts, not just one key thing and how there is, if you look deep enough, something everyone can enjoy. Praising aside, Anastasia has long been one of my favourite films, ever since I was first enthralled by its magical story as a child, and so here dear blog reader (sorry it all went a bit Jane Austen there) are my four reasons why I think (and hopefully you will too) Anastasia is an animation worth watching:
- The Music: With two Oscar nominations for Best Original Song and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score respectively some would argue that the music is the best part of Anastasia, and well I’m not going to argue with them. Songs such as ‘Once upon a December’ have become recognisable in their own right and the music stays with you long after the credits have rolled. What’s best about the film’s music though is the way that it interplays with the stunning visuals. The moment when Anastasia sneaks into the abandoned Winter Palace at the beginning of the film becomes a backdrop for spectacular colourful visions from her memories that float and dance around the screen as a waltz plays. This music/visual interplay also works spectacularly in the number ‘Paris Holds the Key (to your heart)’ in which the Parisian skyline is transformed into an impressionist painting, akin to Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. This song also allows a whole host of famous Parisians to make cameos, such as Rodin and Chanel; basically it’s a mini animated Midnight in Paris.
- The Heroine: Rarely in boy meets Princess animation do we see the Princess defeat the bad guy and rarely do we see it done with as sheer, well, awesomeness as in Anastasia. Meg Ryan, who voices the Princess, seemingly has everything working against her: cheerfully American accent in a movie where everyone is bringing out their best Doctor Zhivago (here’s looking at you, Angela Lansbury), stereotypical, simpering orphan hopefulness, and naïve optimism to the point where you’re ready to write her off as a character. That is until about forty minutes into the action where she suddenly finds her movie star/Romanov Princess gumption, saves Dmitri’s (the boy of the story) life and plays out the rest of the movie with ass kicking aplomb.
- Bartok (the Magnificent): Stop what you’re doing. Stop reading this blog. [no wait, don’t! – Ed.] Stop drinking your cup of tea and go off and find yourself a copy of Bartok the Magnificent, also known as the best straight to DVD sequel ever made. Fantastic songs and glittering animation aside if Anastasia has given us one thing it’s Bartok. Rasputin’s talking bat sidekick is responsible for most of the film’s humour and his witticisms are allowed to continue in this much forgotten sequel, which for anyone who even mildly enjoyed the movie is well worth a watch.
- The Villain: I most definitely can’t be called an expert in Russian history but it’s pretty obvious that Anastasia is definitely more fairy-tale than fact with regards to the real life characters that it employs, but that’s what makes the villain of the story so effective. Rasputin: Russian Holy Man, advisor to the last Tsarina of Russia and subject of a wonderfully cheesy Boney M song, is repainted as a demonic figure, hell-bent on destroying the Romanov’s with his curse. That’s right, those pesky Communists were just puppets in ol’ Rasputin’s master plan to wipe out the royalty. Joking aside, when you’re 8 years old, and have just seen the movie for the first time and then discover that Rasputin was a real person, it gets a lot, lot scarier. That’s where Rasputin finds his success in the world of cartoon villains; part macabre half living demon intent on killing Anastasia to complete his plan, part over the top participant in gleeful song and dance numbers, he comes to embody the spirit of the whole movie. He is from the in-between world where reality is made fantastical, where imagination lets reality take a back seat, and the place where a story becomes truly great.
Fiona is a fellow English Lit student at my Uni here in cold, cold Scotland, and a fellow animation fan. She spends most of her time pondering which colour nail polish to wear when she should be reading classic literature. She doesn’t [yet] have her own blog, but if you enjoyed this article you can follow her on twitter. Her dream is to become the youngest person to win an EGOT, and she is only waiting for an Oscar, now.