Much like Pocahontas, Anastasia tackles historical characters and takes them drastically far from actual events in history. The main difference lies in the approach: while Pocahontas portrayed a very sanitized, skewed version of history, Anastasia takes an alternate universe approach, telling a tale of what might have happened if the Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna had never been murdered.
Other than the lack of any historical accuracy, the movie does have a feisty female lead that doesn’t obsess over men, and at a glance, she seems like a fair enough role model. Is a fiery personality enough to make a good impression on a young girl?
Anastasia begins with the fall of Imperial Russia, which was, of course, at the hands of the evil wizard Rasputin. Young Anastasia and her grandmother, the Grand Duchess, are at a wonderful party when Rasputin bursts in and starts murdering everyone. A servant boy helps the two escape, grabbing a music box that Anastasia wanted before they leave the palace. Rasputin almost catches them, but he steps on a patch of thin ice, cursing the entire family to death before he drowns. The Grand Duchess manages to board a train to Paris, but Anastasia is left behind.
Ten years later, an orphanage in the boonies releases teenaged Anya, a bossy girl who conveniently does not remember her early life, save for the need to meet somebody in Paris. The orhpanage hooks her up with a job at a fish market, but Anya decides to travel to St. Petersburg instead to buy a ticket to Paris. She finds that she can’t leave the country without travel documentation, but a stranger tells her to look up a man named Dmitri at the ruins of the old palace.
Dmitri, tired of simply selling fake passports, is holding auditions for girls who look like the missing Anastasia. The Grand Duchess is still living in Paris, and she’s offering a handsome reward for anyone who returns her grandchild to her. None of the girls in St. Petersburg are terribly compelling, and he’s about to give up when he runs into Anya, who is twirling around and “remembering” things. She tells him her story, and he offers to take her to Paris on the off chance that she might be the Grand Duchess.
Rasputin, caught in limbo, awakes, determined to kill off Anastasia so he can live again or something. While Dmitri and Anya take the long way to France, he sends evil minions off to kill them. This doesn’t work, of course, and Dmitri teaches Anya a lot about “her” past. The two start off bickering, but slowly fall in love over the course of their adventure. They make it to Paris and meet Sophie, the Duchess’ servant who pre-screens all the Anastasia wannabes. Anya talks about a music box, and Dmitiri reveals (to the audience) that he was the boy in the palace (gasp!) and Anya really is Anastasia (double gasp!). Sophie lets them know that the Grand Duchess is too heartbroken at the long string of fakes to meet any more girls, but if they want to harass an old lady, she would take them to the ballet to meet her that night.
Everyone goes to the ballet, and Dmitri tries to convince the Grand Duchess to meet Anastasia. She won’t, but during their conversation, Anastasia overhears that Dmitri is a con man and storms out on him. Determined to make things right, Dmitri kidnaps the old lady and sends her to Anastasia’s room to talk. Anastasia suddenly remembers everything, and they have a tearful reunion and prepare a grand ball. Dmitri turns down the reward money and starts to head home. The Grand Duchess lets Anastasia know that she should go after him and she’ll be there when they get back.
Anastasia goes out to find Dmitri, but Rasputin, tired of failed murder attempts, leads her into a hedge maze and tries to kill her the normal way. Dmitri, who did not leave after all (gasp?), appears just in time for an epic battle, complete with a bunch of magic and an evil CGI pegasus statue. Anastasia stomps on the source of Rasputin’s evil powers, killing him for realsies, and she and Dmitri run off and elope on a boat.
I never thought much about Anastasia herself. Instead, I noticed all the happy people dancing in the streets and singing about gossip. I don’t claim to be an expert on Russian culture, but I don’t think the events in question led to such chipper attitudes behind admittedly gloomy lyrics.
I never noticed it as a kid, but this movie is gruesome as all hell. Rasputin is a rotting corpse and falls apart often. In one scene, his head falls into his chest cavity, and there’s a shot of it lying in a brown pool of what were presumably once his internal organs. When he dies, his skin melts off, and his irradiated skeleton seizes until is disintegrates.
That is awesome.
Anastasia never talks about wanting a prince, or a man at all, really. Her main goal is to find the family she always dreamed of. Of course, most of her family died horribly, but she at least finds one person to love. This is unfortunately undermined by the fact that she leaves said family member for a man she finds along the way, claiming culture shock without even trying the potential new lifestyle, but at least she wasn’t singing about the man she’d one day marry that would make her life complete.
When I was sixteen, I worked as a Counselor in Training at the camp I went to when I was younger. I had two different groups of girls. The first group was the youngest cabin and was an absolute joy. The second group was the second-youngest cabin, one of the most difficult age groups to manage, and I was a bit worried. All of the girls ended up being a delight…except for one. This is because she thought she was Anastasia.
All frizzy red hair, freckles, and entitlement, this little girl always stuck with me as the worst example of an only child that I’d ever seen. She was a princess, you see, and she was in a dreary world of commoners who made her work so hard, and one day she would escape and you’d see what you’d done to her! Making her walk up a hill during a hike prompted her to burst into tears about the cruel treatment she was receiving, having to slave away under the hot sun. To understand the irony here, we were at farm camp.
Clearly, the main character of Anastasia couldn’t be completely responsible for this, as I, too, was an only child and watched the movie quite a bit. Upon watching it as an adult, however, I can easily see where the little brat got some of her ideas. Anastasia is constantly argumentative, bossing around anyone who doesn’t do things her way. When she gets what she wants, she’s sweet, but she’s absolutely hellish until then. Given that other characters describe her as fiery and independent, qualities that young girls are told to aspire to, this is a big problem. Independence does not require snobbery. Thinking back, many little girls I knew who thought they were princesses acted in a similar way, figuring that their pampered treatment meant that they were actual royalty and others should bow to their whims. Dresses and make-up certainly aren’t the worst things a girl can adopt when obsessed with the princess phenomenon.
This is also one of the first movies where the characters reference the weight of the heroine. Dmitri mentions that he doesn’t find Anastasia attractive because she’s too skinny, and other characters, as well as Anastasia herself, echo this sentiment. It’s nice to show larger women in a positive light, but singling out any body type as unappealing in a movie aimed at little girls is pretty sick.
I’ve never understood why so many romantic comedies start out with people who absolutely hate each other. Why can’t they like each other and have some sort of obstacle to their relationship? That’s realistic! The use-the-woman-for-personal-gain-and-then-fall-in-love-with-her plot has been done to death, and it’s no more original in Anastasia. And you know how they eventually fall in love? Dancing, of course. They have absolutely nothing in common and spend most of the movie yelling at each other. Nothing good could come of this.
In all, Anastasia is one of the worst princess movies in terms of messages, teaching young girls to act like the princesses they idolize by being horrible children. The story is weak, the romance is terrible, and most of the characters are dull. On the plus side, the music is really damn catchy.