I know what you’re thinking: any animated musical film that is not Disney is simply not worth watching. Allow me to introduce you to the exception to that rule: 20th Century Fox’s Anastasia. Based on the urban legend that Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, the youngest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, survived the execution of her family, Anastasia introduces a softer side to an otherwise gruesome story without skimping too much on the history. This may be a children’s film, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help you study for your Russian Short Stories midterm (maybe).
The movie opens in snowy St. Petersburg on the night of a grand ball thrown by Tsar Nicholas II and his family. Narrated by his mother, the Dowager Empress Marie (voiced by Angela Lansbury of Mrs. Potts fame—yes, I swear this isn’t Disney!), this sunny prologue turns dark with the unannounced arrival of Rasputin (whose green reliquary is a nod to the real Rasputin’s 13–inch–long penis…this is a children’s movie.) Using his reliquary–slash–penis, Rasputin casts a curse on the Romanovs, sparking the Russian Revolution and causing the family to flee. Anastasia (young Kirsten Dunst) is separated from her family and raised in a rural orphanage, where she gradually forgets her royal upbringing and adopts a new identity as Anya (Meg Ryan).
Anya the Orphan with the abysmal memory sets off to find her family, who she believes is living in Paris. Meanwhile, two con men, Dmirtri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer) lead a complicated search for a girl to pose as Anastasia, who is being sought after by the Dowager Empress for a large reward. The duo plans to find an Anastasia–lookalike, educate her about the Romanov history and present her to Marie as her real missing granddaughter. Once they see Anya dancing in a deserted palace (where she is literally looking at a portrait of herself and still does not get it), Dmitri decides to bring her along with them to Paris and train her as the Anastasia stand–in.
Some say that if it ain’t Alan Menken, it ain’t worth it. But I implore you to give Anastasia a try, if not for the music then at least for the undeniable hotness of its animated characters. I do not believe that pre–Pixar Disney has been able to create a character quite as attractive as Dmitri.
This article has been corrected to show that Kelsey Grammer was not also the voice of Beast from Disney's Beauty and the Beast.