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
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
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
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