A Classic Hollywood
Musical that's Animated
by Jim Bray
20th Century Fox's
animated telling of the story of the famed lost Russian princess is a
Not only is it an
animation tour de force, it's a showstopping musical in the best Broadway/Hollywood
tradition, with a legendary story, likable characters, and a wonderful
Co-directed by Don
Bluth, the former Disney animator who's been treading his own path for
the past couple of decades, "Anastasia" is based on a true story
and stars the voices of Meg Ryan, in the title role (though her songs
are sung by Liz Callaway), John Cusak (sung by Jonathan Dokuchitz), Kelsey
Grammer, Christopher Lloyd (sung by Jim Cummings), Hank Azaria, Bernadette
Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury - a group of old pros who do
a wonderful job of bringing the characters to life.
This is easily Bluth's
best film to date, and he's been responsible for some pretty good stuff
in the past, including "An American Tail."
The story follows
Anastasia from just before the beginning of the communist revolution in
1917, when her family is destroyed, through her journey to Paris with
a couple of con artists (who turn out to be a lot nicer than initially
expected) to find out if she's the real princess Anastasia or not.
The bad guy is the
infamous Rasputin who, despite having been dead for ten years, is intent
upon wreaking vengeance upon the last of the Czar's line - Anastasia.
The songs, with music
by Lynn Ahrens and music by Stephen Flaherty - indeed the entire story
and production - really seem inspired by classic musicals, and the producers
have done a terrific job of staying true to that format - and it works
extremely well in the genre of movie animation .
But it's that animation
that really stands out in "Anastasia." Don Bluth, Gary Goldman
and their team have brought us animated characters who are so lifelike
in their movements, facial expressions, and mannerisms, that it's easy
at times to forget you're watching what's essentially a cartoon.
They did this by shooting
live actors going through the blocking and using that as their reference.
I'm not sure if they actually traced the live actors (an old technique
known as "rotoscoping") or whether they "merely" used
that as their inspiration, but the resulting footage is nothing short
Computers have been
used extensively, but they never beat you over the head with it. The only
times it really shows up is in some camera movement, a couple of the settings,
and in production numbers that would have been too difficult to do traditionally
without spending lots and lots of extra money.
The blend of traditional
and state-of-the-art is for the most part seamless and, since they've
used the computer as a tool rather than the "be all and end all"
Bluth et al have given us the best of both worlds.
The blending of true
story with animated fairy tale also works very well. The result is a movie
the whole family can enjoy - and those who appreciate technical prowess
on the part of the filmmakers will be just as enthralled.
The DVD is in widescreen,
with Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound, and the audio and video quality
are superb. For extras, you get a half hour documentary and a shorter
featurette on the production, trailers, a couple of "karaoke"
singalongs to songs from the film, and an interactive puzzle game. There
are really no liner notes besides the package blurb, just a list of chapter
stops, but the featurettes more than make up for this.
is the first feature from 20th Century Fox's animation studio and if it
speaks for the quality they're pursuing, we can only hope to see many
Anastasia, from 20th
Century Fox Home Video
97 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Meg Ryan, John Cusak, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank
Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, and Angela Lansbury
Screenplay by Susan Gauthier & Bruce Graham Bob Tzudiker & Noni
Produced and Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman
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