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JLFM's Movie Reviews (152)

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Anastasia (1997) 
A Perfect Disney Duplicate
3/4 stars

If I didn't know better, I would've assumed Anastasia was a Disney film. It perfectly duplicates the Disney formula, with nearly as much success. Containing all the ingredients of a superb Disney movie, Anastasia can't stack up with the best of animated fairy tales, but it's an enchanting film regardless.

Anya has been an orphan from the age of eight. She knows nothing about herself, and is determined to find her family, whom she believes to be in Paris. And it seems she just might make it to Paris when two con men (Dimitri and Vladimir) volunteer to take her there, under the condition she pretends to be the lost princess of Russia, so that they can collect the reward money for finding her. Little do they know what Anya actually IS the lost princess.

This is not a particularly original tale. The story has been told time and time again. And while Anastasia may still produce a sense of deja vu, it also manages to make the story feel fresh again.

All of the best qualities of a good Disney movie are here, in just slightly inferior fashion. These qualities being: memorable characters, great songs, excellent animation. There are others too, but these are the qualities Anastasia best duplicates.

Anastasia is a slightly snarky (but not annoying) damsel, that has much more personality than most other Disney princesses of the time. Dimitri is the scoundrel that (predictably) falls in love with the title character. Vladimir is a jolly and round man, who provides most of the film's humor. The villain, Rasputin, is wonderfully wicked, and has a nasty habit of falling apart at times. A hand here, an eye there, that sort of thing.

The voice cast is good, without being quite great. The two standouts are Angela Lansbury as the Russian Empress, and Christopher Lloyd as the villain.

The songs are marvelous, though the interesting rhyme schemes take some getting used to. "Journey to the Past" is a magical number, accompanied by great music and spellbinding lyrics. "Once Upon a December," this fairy tale's music box/lullaby song is pleasant, and could've been a spot on parody of any of Disney's songs of the same nature.

"Rumor in St. Petersburg" is distinctly Russian, and at the same time, evokes memories of the "Belle" number in Beauty and the Beast (though it's not nearly as good). "In the Dark of the Night" is a fantastic villain's song, with some great accompanying chords and music that really make the song. And "Learn to Do It" is the film's most comedic and easily likeable song, with quick clever lyrics (and includes a sweet reprise shortly afterwards).

The animation is good, and almost great. There's lots of detail, and pretty good character designs. The main problem is that there's no sense of depth. This leads to some pretty cheap looking segments here and there that could've used some polish. Occasional use of CGI is subtle and not distracting, but enhances the animation.

The score, composed by David Newman, has all the elements of a good fairy tale or fantasy score. It's not as playful as most Disney scores (appropriate for the film's slightly darker nature), but it certainly gets the job done.

While I wouldn't put it ahead of most Disney Princess movies, Anastasia makes for a worthy rival. Great songs, memorable characters, and a touching story makes Anastasia a winner. I can't say I was expecting much from this Disney look-a-like, but you can call me impressed.


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