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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Anastasia

Starring: Meg Ryan, Hank Azaria
Director: Don Bluth
Rated: G
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: November 1997
Genres: Animation, Kids, Family, Music, Action

*Also starring: John Cusack, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lloyd, Kelsey Grammer, Bernadette Peters

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1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

Cartoons were originally just the opening act to whet the audience's appetite for the cinematic main course. Walt Disney changed all of that in 1937 with the first feature-length animated movie, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS.

Since then what brings people into the theaters, rather than the now ubiquitous video rental emporiums, has changed dramatically. The movies that make money these days rely heavily on star power or special effects, frequently both. Young kids are seen less and less at the multiplex because studios are ignoring them. Is it that fewer kids are coming and therefore the studio's wise marketeers are cutting back on kids' movies to match the decrease in demand? Teenagers, on the other hand, remain the mother lode for theater owners.

Yet some animated movies have been successful and a few, such as THE LION KING, have been incredibly lucrative. So what does it take to make a winning movie with cartoon characters? Although there is no sure and certain recipe, aside from having a Disney logo, some of the ingredients include color, images, music, humor, and a compelling story.

The non-Disney animated movie ANASTASIA by the directing and producing team of Don Bluth and Gary Goldman has already become a holiday hit. Its popularity comes from a combination of all of the above ingredients, but one part stands head and shoulders above the rest -- the images, which are worthy of a master painter. This film is so beautiful that, if the sound system were to go out, you would have absolutely no reason to demand your money back. Just watching the picture provides the vast majority of the enjoyment, which is not to say that the other parts have problems since they do not. Although the songs are the film's weakest element, even some of them, especially "Dancing Bear", are quite lovely.

ANASTASIA is a retelling of the legend of the missing Romanov princess. Historians would be well advised to skip the picture for it plays fast and loose with the facts, but others will not care. This is a cartoon to entertain audiences, not an instructional video.

Meg Ryan is the voice of a sassy, tough and attractive Anastasia. Ryan becomes the character rather than the other way around, unlike the Genie in ALADDIN, for example, who became Robin Williams. If your girls are looking for a good role model, look no further. Anastasia is a resourceful and self-assured young woman who is capable of saving her boyfriend rather being saved herself.

A con artist named Dimitri (John Cusack) takes a beautiful orphan named Anya (Ryan), and transforms her into a mock-Anastasia, falling in love with his creation in the process. The twist is that Anya may actually be Anastasia. Kelsey Grammer is the voice of Dimitri's companion in crime, Vladimir. If they can convince the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury) that Anya is Anastasia, they will get a ten million ruble reward. (Anastasia has a cute little dog named Pooka, who, unlike most cartoon characters, does not get to talk.)

Along the way Dimitri and Anastasia have to fight the dastardly villain Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), who keeps falling to pieces, literally. His hands fly off, his mouth falls down and he generally cannot keep himself together -- we've all had days like that. Rasputin's frequently not-so-willing companion is a wise-talking bat named Bartok (Hank Azaria).

The memorable parts of ANASTASIA are the visuals. Although words cannot do them justice, let me mention a few of the best. There is one sequence in a train where they show the boiler of the engine. Oranges and reds dance across the screen as the heat of the flames makes the air undulate in front of the viewers. When the train crashes down into the canyon, it explodes in a fireball both realistic and gorgeous. The characters are all drawn with life-like delicacy. And there is a scene set inside a French house with photo-accurate Impressionist and other paintings on the walls. Finally, there is a simple scene of Anya looking into the waters of a stream, which reflect with a magical luminescence. It is easy to go on, but the film is more to be seen than discussed.

ANASTASIA runs 1:34. It is rated G and would be fine for the whole family. There is some potential that the littlest munchkins might be scared by Rasputin, but I saw no evidence of it in our packed theater.

My son Jeffrey, age 8, said he thought the show was "pretty good" and that he liked the funny doggie (Pooka) the best. His friend Kerry, also 8, said she thought the movie was "great!" Her favorite scene was when Anastasia hands Dimitri a stick of dynamite to uncouple two stuck railroad cars. A surprised and wide-eyed Dimitri remarks, "That will work."

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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