“Far away, long ago, glowing dim as an ember,
Things my heart used to know, things it yearns…
How often have we heard if we do not learn about our past, we cannot move on with our future? My father was a history professor for high school and college, collectively for 42 years. A passion and respect for our planet’s events and stories of people is in my blood. One component of history I enjoy deeply studying is The Romanov royal Russian dynasty, 300 years of a regal bloodline that ruled Russia until the end of World War I. How did they capture my interest so profoundly or even a nine year old mean learn of such a family and country?
From a beautifully told, drawn, voiced, sung, and written animated film.
Now, when I first saw this in my youth, I was ensnared, feeling for this poor young woman losing her family, being sassy (which my grandma said wasn’t very princess-like, which was the point! Bless her,) and where she found her family and love while singing and dancing gracefully (or trying to.) And to this day, this film has still held onto my heart just as tightly, one I can watch over and over and smile, feel, relax, and connect.
I didn’t find out until I read a book three years later about Anastasia by Carol Meyer (an amazing author,) about the fate of the youngest grand duchess and her family. My heart broke. How could they make a stunning and inspiring musical children’s movie about a real-life woman and loving family who were murdered so horrifically? And because of accounts like Anya (hence the name of our leading lady in the film when she forgot her memories) and two of the bodies being missing, the mystery became romanticized. I saw it as hope. But that came to a close in 2007, my first year of college, when they discovered the final two siblings, but at least now the whole family was at rest.
But this movie made me research, learn more, and connect to this real family. Which made me treasure the film more for what it was. A powerful cycle.
So, this month, this masterpiece turns 25 and I wanted to celebrate it with some background and my experience with it, ^_^
“Anastasia” was created by Fox Studios, directed and produced by Don Bluth, who made classics like “All Dogs Go To Heaven,” “Thumbelina,” “The Secret Nihm,” “An American Tail,” “The Land Before Time,” “Troll in Central Park,” and “The Pebble and the Penguin” and he also was an animator for Disney “Sleeping Beauty,” “Fox and the Hound,” “Robin Hood,” and “Winnie the Pooh!” What a man! In 1994, Fox purchased a new studio and settled for it to be in Phoniex. They went back and forth on the next film to make, “The King and I” or “My Fair Lady” options to be adapted for animation. They eventually settled on “Anastasia,” the 1959 FOX live-action movie being their adaption, with many of its elements incorporated into the cartoon film.
Mr. Bluth and Mr. Goldman enlisted CIA agents in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, to learn about the history. Once they learned the truth, they knew a direct retelling was too tragic for children, so they focused on a romantic comedy with historical and magical elements, the script written and completed (passing hands a few times) in 1995. Even the legendary Carrie Fisher (uncredited, boo!) helped with writing the orphanage scene!
One of the original concepts for the villain was to be a police officer who had a problem with Anastasia, but Mr. Bluth picked Rasputin since in real life, he was close to the Romanov family and did some evil things in his life. They were also fascinated by how he was left murdered four times, only the last time succeeding, that and his holy ‘healing’ being translated well to a magical, revenge-seeking enemy.
The company knew they had Meg Ryan as their snarky, but loveable grand dutches! To show how serious they were, they brought Mrs. Ryan in and showed her a scene in “Sleepless in Seatle,” a film she starred in, fully animated in the style they were going to make Anastasia! She was dazzled! The sensational Liz Callaway, who was a famous Broadway actress (and the singing voice for many legendary 90s cartoon ladies, such as Princess Odette in the original ‘Swan Princess,’ another one of my favorite all-time films, and she also did the theme song for ‘The Nanny!’) was cast for Anastasia’s singing voice, even though she was auditioning for a background singing role! Other legends include John Cusack (what a sassy, charming loving interest,) Kelsey Grammer (who does a killer Russian accent and singing voice,) Christopher Llyod (the dark villain,) a young Kirsten Dunst, Burnette Peters (Broadway queen,) and the darling herself, Angela Lansbury as the Emperess! With a line-up like this, how could they lose?!
Something I adored about this film was that we had a snarky and sarcastic female lead and couple. We were starting to get smart, independent, sassy, and brave thanks to the Disney Reinassance yet they still felt like princessy-princesses too. But sarcastic?! Anastasia was a whole new ballpark! I also love the fact they let the actors for Anya and Dimitri record together, not common in animated productions because it helped their chemistry.
And this film worked. It grossed $14 million worldwide, making it the most profitable Mr. Bluth and Fox Studio production. It was well-praised for its characters, animation, and soundtrack, even being nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Original Song in “Journey to the Past” and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score.) It was nominated for 34 awards, winning nine, such as the Young Artist Award for Best Family Animated Film, the Critics Choice Award for Best Family Film, and the Annie Awards for Best Male Voice Acting in an Animated Film for the voice actor for Bartok!
In 2016, it became a beloved Broadway musical too, using more inspiration from real events and the police officer villain scraped idea from the first script in this storyline, but it still keeps the enchantment and beauty of the movie. I want to go SO badly; I haven’t gotten the chance yet. And Disney now owns Anastasia and you can watch it on Disney+!
Real Life VS. Movie Events:
- World War I and the tragic downfall of the Romanov started in 1914 when Anastasia was at age 13. In the film, it happened much more rapidly, with the family getting killed in 1908 when Anastasia was 8.
- Of course, at the end of the movie, Anastasia is alive, regains her memory, and finds her grandmother. Devastatingly, she was murdered with her family in 1918 at the age of 17.
- The majority of the film is set in 1918 to share their final years.
- Goes without saying, Ruspitin was not an evil wizard who sold his soul to the afterlife to gain more power. He was a holy man whom the Romanov family entrusted for his touch to help Alexi, the youngest child and heir to the royal line, with his hemophilia. This is a blood disease where your blood does not clot and even a small fall can cause deadly consequences. But, over time, he gave advice to the royal family that affected Russia, the citizens’ unrest increased that led to a Revolution.
- A woman who had detailed, personal ‘memories’ of the Romanovs stepped forward and claimed to be Grand Dutchess, escaping from the murderous attack. Her name was Anna. This inspired Anastasia’s amenisia name, Anya. It was disproven at Miss Anna’s passing with DNA testing, however, for several years, she had many believers.
- Empress Marie of France, Czar Nicholas’s mother, was not at the house arrest or shooting. However, she did have a special relationship with her youngest granddaughter, Anastasia. The music box she gave her was fictional, but it is designed using the influence of Russian culture, including the surprises inside the famous and stunning Faberge eggs.
- The Romanovs had their own special train, the style of a train in the film was inspired by the Russian trains back then.
- The paintings in the St. Peterburg’s palace (which is a landmark in Russia) on the family were based on real ones of the family (the Romanov family was obsessed with photography.) And the doodle the Empress Marie saved that Anastasia did when she was young in the film was copied from one the real young grand dutchess did of her sister Olga!
- We see Anastsia’s three older sisters: Olga, Titiana, and Marie, three times: in the main family portrait, in the dancing dream sequence in “Once Upon a December,” and in Anastsia’s nightmare, her sisters dressed in their swimsuits.
- Her father’s uniform in the opening ball is one the real Czar wore for important photos and events.
- The formal ballgown that Anastasia wears for her gala after she is reunited with her grandma is inspired by a formal outfit the real Anastasia and her sisters wore for formal pictures (their mother made the four girls wear matching outfits often.) The Sailor dress she wore in the nightmare where she heads to the lake is based on one the girls wore on a yacht family trip.
- The other main characters are fictional.
How Do You Know I Love This Film?: (Cosplay and items)
I hope it is easy to see my love for this movie, the happiness it has brought me, the comfort, and how it changed my life. The music is pure wonder. In fact; the ending ballad from the film, “At the Beginning,” was the song for my first dance at my wedding. ^_^ Spinning around, being tender, but able to take care of myself and those around me, realizing the importance of family, finding love…I wanted to be like this Anastasia and the fine young lady she is based on. And the quotes and fashion! Dreamy! This movie is inspirational, entertaining, breathtaking, catchy, and has left its mark on me forever.
And as an adult, my dream came true: I now cosplay as dream dance sequence Anastasia, with the music box, necklace, and a plush Pooka, my darling puppy sidekick, and my special sign to follow my dreams. Seeing people’s reactions always makes me happy. And I get told I look like her. 😉
Listen to the Soundtrack Here (click the picture:)
My Favorite Historical Fiction Books on the Romanov Family:
There are so many wonderful books, fiction and non-fiction, about Anastasia and the Romanov line. And I have read several. You can find a Master List HERE on Goodreads. And below are my favorites in order.:)