Blu Ray Film Reviews – Anastasia

Artwork for the animated film, Anastasia, Anastasia is now out on blu rayBlu ray film reviews – Anastasia.

UK readers of the site can buy Anastasia here.  USA readers click here to buy the disc.

David Newman composed the music score for this film, his father composed the music score for the 1956 live action version of which this edition is partly based upon. The Parisian bridge on which the final confrontation between Rasputin, Dimitri and Anastasia occurs is the Alexander the third bridge and is named after the real Anastasia Romanovs grandfather after his state visit to France in the 1870's.

The drawing that we see the Empress holding when she and Anya are reminiscing is a reproduction of the real picture that Anastasia had drawn for her father in 1914. The portrait in the ballroom of the whole family includes a dog, this dog really existed and was a spaniel named Joy, this dog belonged to Anastasia's brother, Alexei, it was found alive at the house where the family were killed.

Anastasia also had a dog and it was called Jimmy, unfortunately it did not survive the Russian revolution.

This was the first feature film from 20th Century Fox's animation division. The music box featured in the film actually existed and was given to Anastasia by Marie Feoderovna for her thirteenth birthday although it was silver with a ballerina on top.

Rasputin's real name was Gregori Efimovich and he was the Romanov's advisor and Tsarina Alexandra's trusted confidant, a rumour suggests he told the Tsarina that he was about to be assassinated and that if one of her relatives killed him then all the Romanov family would die within a year, in the film there is a reference to this featured in the song "A Rumour in St Petersburg" an old woman tells Dimitri to buy Count Yussupov's Pyjamas, Yussupov was the prince who along with other noblemen killed the real Rasputin.

Just as suggested in the film, the real Anastasia loved playing practical jokes. Advance screening prints for the film were codenamed The Train.


Film Plot

When the shadow of revolution falls across Russia, the royal family's youngest daughter barely escapes with her life. 

Years later, Anastasia and a band of heroic companions must battle the evil Rasputin, his sidekick Bartok the bat and a host of ghostly minions in a headlong race to reach Paris and reclaim her rightful destiny……and solve one of the greatest mysteries of the twentieth century!


Positives

The early parts of this film have some really good animation and songs that helped pull me into the film, the latter parts of the film have some exciting action scenes and also the song, Once Upon A December, that's a fabulous musical number, if only the middle part of the film didn't drag so much, but, i'll leave my comments about that for the negative section of this review, i liked the musical score composed by David Newman for this film and i also felt that Anastasia had good atmosphere and was well written.

The voice acting was of a high standard, i liked Meg Ryan as Anastasia, John Cusack as Dimitri and Christopher Lloyd who played the evil Rasputin, i thought Angela Lansbury stole the show with her voice performance as, The Dowager Empress Marie, she of course is no stranger to voicing animated characters having done the voice for Mrs Potts in Beauty and the Beast.

As i say above i felt some of the animation was excellent, the scene where Anastasia leaves the orphanage has snow falling and its beautifully animated and looks superb.


 Negatives

I felt the middle section of the film was not as good as the beginning or end, even the animation seemed worse, approx 40 minutes into the film, they are in a forest region and some of the background drawings looked poor to me, shorty after this i felt the start of the dream sequence was also poor, this is really minor criticism, it's just that some of the animation is excellent but then some scenes look to me to have a fall in standards, i would have liked the whole movie to have the same high standards but i felt consistency was lacking.

Animated films tend to simplify stories and keep away from controversy, considering that this is based on a true story, i would have enjoyed a harder hitting animated film but at the same time i do recognize that they are aiming these films at a younger audience and the film cannot get too dark as it would alienate the core viewers they are marketing the movie at.

The blu ray cover art could have been better, take a look at the image at the top of this review, i would have preferred they had used that artwork.


Image Quality

Anastasia and Dimitri with faithful dog in a scene from AnastasiaI saw very light film grain throughout the running time of the movie, its easier to spot during the opening credits, moments where the colour red is onscreen and some of the darker animated scenes, i also thought i saw in a handful of scenes some minor halo's around characters, i do not believe this to be edge enhancement sharpening, i think its a result of compositing the animated characters with the backgrounds, i personally didn't consider this a problem and think this is exactly what you would have seen at the cinema, just like Disney with their CAPS system, this film used digital inks and paints, so what we see on this blu ray release should be an accurate reproduction of the intended look for the movie.

Don Bluth films tend to have a darker colour palette, a more earthy tone to them, of course that is not a bad thing, i tend to like the animation on display here, it's different to Disney, you can see the same look in another Bluth production, The Secret Of NIMH, so while Disney colours tend to be bright and shiny, the colours in this film are more subtle and not so saturated, the actual look of the animated characters remind me a little of how Disney used to draw characters in their classic films, as an example, Sleeping Beauty, which was made in the 1950's.

During the boat scene i noticed a tiny bit of colour banding in the sky background, it's a small niggle and i have to say that it's not something which bothered me too much, if only blu ray had 12 bit colour or higher then banding would be a thing of the past, banding happens when you get abrupt changes of the same colour, and, although it affects live action movies, it can especially affect animated films if care is not taken when the title is produced for blu ray, you'll tend to notice it when natural gradients like sunsets, dawns or clear blue skies are shown.

This film uses some early CGI, the flying horse at the end of the film is CGI, it's not that impressive compared to some of the CGI out there but for me it worked fine, some people may find it to be a little dated, there are also some other moments in the film that are CGI such as the music box, it doesn't really blend in that well with the animation but at the same time it didn't take me out of the film, as stated above i think what Fox have delivered with this blu ray release is representative of the cinema look.


Sound Quality

During the revolution scenes at the start of the film, and the scenes which follow with Rasputin on the ice chasing Anastasia, there is an active sound field and you can hear music, dialogue and sound effects playing through all the speakers, shortly after this moment we see a grown up Anastasia leaving the orphanage, she finds a playful dog in the snow and sings the song, One Step Out Of Time, for me, that is the musical standout of the entire film, the animated visuals match up superbly with the song and it sounds superb, if you take a listen to the song A Rumor in St Petersburg you hear the entire town burst into song and the rear speakers come alive, all the speakers come to life when the musical numbers play and it sounds wonderful.

I thought the runaway train sequence as it heads towards the broken bridge was impressive, some good use of all the speakers and although the bass was never truly deep it sounded good, i also thought that the scene at roughly the 72 minute mark in the clock tower with Rasputin and Bartok sounded great with very nice individual sound directionality through all the speakers and good bass from the lightning and thunder, the final confrontation with Rasputin and the flying horse at the end of the film is another example where all the speakers are used, i should add that the rear speakers are mostly used for ambience, sometimes i could hear individual sounds on one of the speakers such as a door slamming or a dog barking.

Dialogue was always easy to hear and sounded good, no matter how loud the rest of the soundtrack was you could always make out the speech in the film.


Final Thoughts

A scene from the animated film AnastasiaThe story of the Russian revolution is a fascinating one, i find it interesting that the British royal family, in particular King George V, could have saved the Tsar and his family but he refused them sanctuary, Nicholas the second was shot multiple times and his family bayoneted and shot in the head, it's to the shame of the British royal family that they looked after their own interests, In 1979, the bodies of Tsar Nicholas II, Tsarina Alexandra, three of their daughters, and those of four non family members killed with them, were discovered near Sverdlovsk by amateur archaeologist Alexander Avdonin. In January 1998, the remains were identified as Nicholas II and his family (excluding one of the sisters, and Alexei). The identifications by separate Russian, British and American scientists using DNA analysis concur and were found to be conclusive.

In July 2007, Sergei Pogorelov, a 46 year old builder who spent free weekends looking for the lost Romanov's, discovered bones that belonged to a boy and a young woman roughly the ages of Nicholas' 13-year-old son, Alexei, and a daughter whose remains also never have been found.  On 23 August 2007, prosecutors reopened the investigation surrounding the deaths of the Imperial Family.  On 30 April 2008, DNA tests proved that bone fragments exhumed in the Ural Mountains belonged to two children of Nicholas II, son Alexei and daughter Maria.  On 1 October 2008, Russia's Supreme Court ruled that Nicholas II and his family were victims of political repression and should be rehabilitated.

No film version has ever accurately told the real story of what happened in 1918 to the Tsar and his family, i have seen the 1956 film version of Anastasia, that versions screenplay is partly re-used here, both film versions have their faults and are not quite as rivetting as i believe they could be, but, nevertheless i was entertained, and the original film did get me interested in researching the history of the Romanov family and the real story of the Russian revolution.

I think the animation in Anastasia is not up to the same standards as some of Disney's output of the 1990's, but, i still enjoyed it, in particular i felt that the musical numbers and voice acting was of a very high standard, there is a lot more to animation than just Disney, i recommend people check out Stduio Ghibli as just one example of a different type of animation, you will be pleasantly surprised and may even find your mind opening up to a whole new world of animation that you never even knew existed.