Nothing much rhymes with Bolshevik or communism, apparently, as these words and such crucial historical figures as Lenin and Trotsky are nowhere to be found in the curious, well-mounted animated musical epic “Anastasia.” Historical accuracy aside, this holiday release, the first project from Fox Animation Studios, is consistently bountiful in delivering lush visuals and drawing one into an engaging, if slow-moving and often preposterous, scenario.
A rare wide-screen animated feature, with Fox resurrecting its CinemaScope trademark, “Anastasia” presents a marketing challenge with a story that is not a widely known classic. Directed by Anatole Litvak and inspiring the current film, Fox’s 1956 live-action “Anastasia” earned comeback star Ingrid Bergman an Oscar, but the translation of a historical sideshow into a “20th century fairy tale”- complete with supernatural villain and cute creatures - is another titanic gamble for the studio most in need of a hit.
A breezy overview of the Russian Revolution introduces Princess Anastasia Nicholaevna Romanov (voice by Kirsten Dunst), the young daughter of the czar. Miraculously spared from the revolutionary violence that claims her immediate family, she is lost in the turmoil.
Ten years later, the lead (Meg Ryan) is a nobody in St. Petersburg, but rumors abound of one survivor of Russia’s last imperial rulers.
Enter con men Dimitri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer), who recruit Anastasia for a scam involving the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury), an elegant lady in Paris who searches for the young girl she gave a music-box key to before disaster struck.
In songs and lively nonmusical scenes, Dimitri convinces Anastasia she might be the lost Romanov, and the two gradually fall in love.
Alas, the central romance is a bit sophisticated for younger children, and the filmmakers resort to making Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), the peasant mystic who had great influence at the court of Nicholas II, into a Disney-like villain by way of EC Comics.
In terms of animation, “Anastasia” is a stellar achievement for co-directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman. They use a familiar, illustrative style with an ambitious agenda that is unfortunately tweaked too far into fantasy - or maybe not far enough.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: “Anastasia” Location: Newport, Spokane Valley Mall, Showboat Credits: Produced and directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, voices by Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Kelsey Grammer, Christopher Lloyd, Hank Azaria, Bernadette Peters, Kirsten Dunst, Angela Lansbury Running time: 1:32 Rating: G