Anastasia proves fairy tales not only for kids

disney In the mood to hear a good fairy tale? Or does a trip to Paris sound better? Anastasia provides the means to travel both to a fantasy Paris and to the blissful days of youth.

Anastasia (Fox Family Films) is the new feature-length animated film from Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, creators of An American Tale. Fox Animation is the first major studio challenger to Disney’s animation monopoly.

Anastasia relies in part on the standard Disney formula – everyone gets a cute little sidekick, and a happy ending is guaranteed. But unlike recent Disney offerings, Anastasia has a compelling story, memorable melodies, an enchanting romance and a hero every bit as feisty as the heroine.

The movie is loosely based on the riddle of Anastasia Romanov, one of Russian Czar Nicholas II’s murdered children. It is rumored she survived the revolution and the slaughter of her family. Despite a gory historical context, Anastasia’s creators tell a beautiful story.

The film begins in imperial St. Petersburg. Princess Anastasia (Meg Ryan, Addicted to Love) lives in paradise with her family until Rasputin, the evil magician, curses the royal family. The same night, the Czar is murdered.

Eight-year-old Anastasia, along with her grandmother Marie (Angela Lansbury, “Murder She Wrote”), escape the palace with the help of Dimitri, the kitchen boy (John Cusack, Grosse Pointe Blank). In the ensuing chaos, Anastasia’s grandmother boards a train leaving St. Petersburg without her.

A decade later, the communist regime is firmly in control. Anastasia, now called Anya, lives in an orphanage with no memory of her life before the revolution. On her way to her new job at a fish factory, the impulsive former princess heads for St. Petersburg in search of some trace of her past.

Anastasia’s grandmother now is living in Paris, and she is offering 10 million rubles to anyone who can restore Anastasia to her. Dimitri has grown into a handsome young con. He is looking for a credible Anastasia impersonator to claim the reward.

Once he sets eyes on Anya, he realizes she is a mirror image of the lost princess, and convinces her to come to Paris. Together, with the former aristocrat Vladimir and a cute mutt, Pooka, Dimitri and Anya begin their journey – with Rasputin’s curse close on their heels.

The movie is incredibly beautiful, full of show-stopping musical numbers and terrifying cliffhangers. The score is a cross between Dr. Zhivago and a Broadway musical. As the film draws to a close in the Roaring ’20s, viewers get a healthy dose of the Can-Can and the Charleston as well.

During the film, the gilded palace of Anastasia’s youth is transformed into a dusty hulk, contrasting St. Petersburg’s glittering past with the drudgery of urban communism in the 1920s. Anastasia , however, shies away from political turmoil.

The animation is ambitious and unbelievably detailed. Countless backgrounds and scene changes are included, with special effects to rival any action film. The train wreck early in the journey is a computer-animated marvel. The facial expressions of the characters, even in crowd scenes, are very human.

Rasputin is the film’s main flaw. Stuck in hell for most of the film, he is a rotting corpse who keeps losing body parts. His decomposition is supposed to be cute, but instead is extremely gross and unnecessary. He helps give the film tension, but it is for his chorus line of cockroaches that viewers will remember him.

In barely-concealed symbolism, Anastasia and Dimitri go to the ballet to see “Cinderella.” Disney-esque as the film may be, Anastasia is an original film that leaps ahead of Disney in terms of maturity and pathos.

The cartoon tells a rags-to-riches story, but it is never predictable, with suspense building until the final moments. And Anastasia never loses sight of the fact that it is, above all things, a fairy tale.

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