Western Animation / Anastasia
On the wind, 'cross the sea,
Hear this song and remember
Soon you'll be home with me
Once upon a December
's 1997 very loose adaptation
of a 1956 Ingrid Bergman
film, which itself was already very, very loosely based
on the 'life' of the Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia. The story goes like this...
In 1916, Nicholas II, Czar of Russia, and his family, the Romanovs, were very happy until they were cursed by the evil Rasputin
and their people revolted against them for some mystical reason
, aided by demons. All of the Romanovs apparently died in the attack except the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna Romanova, the Czar's mother. A young kitchen boy helped Marie and one of the Czar's daughters, the eight-year-old Anastasia, escape. However, she and Marie got separated when Anastasia fell from a train and, presumably, died.
Ten years later (1926), Anya, an eighteen-year-old orphan making her way in the world for the first time, decides to head for Paris. She hopes to find her family there, guided by the message "Together in Paris" inscribed on the necklace she was found with
in an amnesiac state
as a child.
She heads for St. Petersburg, hoping to get a train from there to Paris, but she does not have the appropriate travel papers. Following the advice of a stranger, she locates a young forger and conman called Dimitri in the old palace. For his part, Dimitri is planning on running a con. Rumor has it that Anastasia may have survived the attack, and the Dowager Empress has offered a huge reward to anyone who can reunite Anastasia with her. Dimitri and his friend Vladimir notice that this young woman who has come to them for travel papers looks strikingly
like an older version of Anastasia.
The two men put to Anya the idea that she may actually be
Anastasia, but don't mention the reward. Vlad then forges the papers to travel out of the country so that they can all go to Paris to meet the Dowager Empress. In the meantime, Rasputin is in limbo until all the Romanovs are dead. His animal sidekick, a bat named Bartok, upon seeing Anya, is pulled into limbo by Rasputin's mystic relic, tells Rasputin about Anya and they realize she must actually be Anastasia.
The rest of the film deals with Anya learning to become more ladylike while Rasputin calls upon the powers of hell to try and kill her. The ending, like most animated movies, is a happy one; however, it is enlightening in a few ways.
Contrary to popular belief
, this movie was not produced by Disney
. It was actually produced by 20th Century Fox
Got a Direct-to-Video
spin-off in the form of Bartok the Magnificentnote
, which deals with the plucky little bat impressing people with his "special abilities
". It's important to note that this is the only sequel that Bluth has ever been involved with.
A stage adaptation was announced for the 2016/2017 Broadway season, with an initial out-of-town tryout in spring/summer 2016. The original songwriting team will return, and the stage version will make some significant changes while maintaining the spine of the film, blending the fairytale tone of the animated film with more of the actual history of post-imperial Russia and the Romanovs.
This film provides examples of:
- Adult Fear: The opening scene. To wit, The Dowager Empress only manages to get one of her grandchildren out of the violent murdering spree. The apparent instigator tries to kill the only one who got out personally, but survives. Then, finally, when they get on a train to safety, she loses her.
- Age Without Youth: Rasputin gets hit particularly hard with the short end of the stick. He never even explicitly wished for immortality in the first place, he just made a vow that he "would never rest until the Romanov line is no more!". The evil forces that he bargained with for his soul took him at his word: so long as at least one Romanov survives, he cannot die even though his body is rotting apart.
- A Hell of a Time: Actually Limbo, but it's really boring rather than torturous. The only thing that's really hell-like about the place is being Beneath the Earth and all the bugs, but they're actually OK guys-y'know, for sapient, supernatural beetles...
- Almost Kiss: Anya and Dimitri do this at least twice. They finally get to kiss for real at the end.
- Anachronism Stew: It might be more reasonable to identify what isn't anachronistic, but among obvious examples, Petrograd militsyia (police) on horseback are clearly modeled after Soviet cops...from the Seventies, complete with modern uniforms.
- And This Is For...: Anastasia does a rundown of the trope when she destroys Rasputin's reliquary, thereby killing him.
Anastasia: This is for Dimitri! This is for my family! And this... this is for you! Do svidaniya!
- Angel Face, Demon Face: Bartok the bat starts out a little sinister, but is downright cute by the end of the movie when he's given up on serving Rasputin.
- Card-Carrying Villain: Rasputin gets a few lines in "In The Dark Of The Night" that indicate that he knows that he is evil. He refers to his curse as a "dark purpose", and he tells his minions to "let their evil shine".
- Chorus Girls: The "Paris Holds The Key" number features French Chorus Girls who Squee!, bare their shoulders, and ruffle their skirts to make Toulouse-Lautrec proud.
- Clothing Damage: Happens to Anya during the battle with Rasputin, and it was her pimped out princess dress too!
- Comically Missing the Point: After their train car breaks off from the ones behind, Vlad is more concerned about losing the dining car.
- Coming-of-Age Story: After the prologue Anastasia sings a song about wanting to find out who she is and where to find her future. She finds both over the course of the journey.
- Composite Character: Rasputin as he appears in this movie is a mix between the historical character, and a character from russian folklore called Koschei the Deathless.
- Compressed Hair: Anya appears to have a small ponytail for most of the movie, but when she lets her hair down later when she's all dressed up, her hair is much longer than the ponytail would account for. If you look closely, at the small "ponytail", though, you can see that it's actually only the ends of her hair sticking out of a very tight bun.
- Conspicuous CG: This is the first movie where Don Bluth swapped out his almost-trademark "oh, let's just build a small model of this horrifically hard-to-draw-and-animate thing and rotoscope it" special effect for computer generated imagery, and it definitely shows, especially with the following:
- The crashing chandelier looks like it comes from a different movie entirely.
- Ditto the boat and the music box.
- Rasputin's reliquary.
- The train!
- The Pegasus statue (minus the mane which is obviously 2D, creating an odd effect overall).
- Cool Crown: Anya wears a very sparkly diadem with her princess dress.
- Costume Porn: The movie is full of this. Most notable examples would have to be Anya's yellow silk Dream Sequence dress, the svelte navy and sparkly Parisian Opera dress, her blue court dress at the beginning of the movie, and her yellow court dress at the end of the movie.
- Crowd Song: "A Rumor in St. Petersburg" and "Paris Hold the Key (to Your Heart)".
- Damsel out of Distress: Anastasia at the climax. Though Dimitri arrives and attempts to save her from Rasputin, the latter sics a giant, animated horse statue on him that keeps him from interfering. Anastasia ends up fighting Rasputin all by herself and, with some help from Pooka fetching her the reliquary, defeats him. Rasputin's death is a result.
- Dance of Romance: Anastasia and Dimitri, while Vladimir lampshades this with a brief song.
- Dances and Balls: Rasputin curses the royal family during a ball to celebrate the Romanovs' multiple centuries of rule over Russia. It works, because shortly afterwards not-Lenin and the not-Bolsheviks raid the palace and Anastasia barely makes it out of there.
- Dark Is Evil: Rasputin is the darkest-coloured character, says he obtained his powers by selling his soul to "the Dark Forces", and his musical number is called "In The Dark Of The Night". Then for some reason, his powers often manifest as green light.
- Dated History: We're sorry Princess, but DNA testing has now confirmed that you're really most sincerely dead.
- Disneyfication: Of the play and history itself. Bluth has admitted he never intended it to be accurate.
- Dream Ballet: The "Once Upon A December" number, where the portraits in the imperial ballroom come to life and dance for Anya.
- Dream Melody: Once Upon a December is sung during the Dream Ballet.
- Dub Name Change: Bartok the bat is renamed as "Bartek" in the Hungarian dub, to avoid any association with Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.
- Easy Amnesia: Or at least, it was easy for her to get it... The bump to her head caused no other damage, and as far as we can tell, only made her forget who she was. As pointed out by the manager of the orphanage, Anya never stopped behaving like a princess.
- Elopement: Anastasia and Dimitri at the end. They're certainly not having a grand public wedding.
- The End of the Beginning: At the end: "It's a perfect ending!" "No. It's a perfect beginning."
- Everyone Can See It: Vlad definitely can, and Sophie appears to share his suspicions, and the Dowager Empress figures it out pretty quickly. Even random people at the opera think Ana and Dimitri are a couple having a spat.
- Everything's Better with Princesses: The real Anastasia was recognised as "Grand Duchess". While the movie does drop the Grand Duchess title a couple of times, most characters use "princess" for convenience's sake.
- Evil-Detecting Dog: Pooka always begins to bark or notice the reliquary's demons just before each of Rasputin's attempts on Anastasia's life.
- Evil Is Not a Toy: Rasputin was so blinded by his hate for the Romanovs that he really didn't think his deal with the dark side through. Swearing "not to rest until the last Romanov is dead" unwittingly turns him into a decaying lich, then when his Soul Jar gets wrecked, the dark forces immediately intervene to claim him and he dies horrifically with, his soul likely in their possession for all time.
- Evil Is Petty: A being who was given by the powers of darkness, the ability that establishes the Communist Revolution for goodness sake comes back into the world. What does he intend to do next? Take Over the World? Destroy it? Nah. He is going to devote his entire existence to wrecking one girl's chance for happiness.
- Lampshaded by Bartok when he says, Get A Life!
- Evil Plan: Everything is kicked off by Rasptutin's desire to kill the Romanov family. He continues with this plan after the time skip once he realizes Anastasia's still alive.
- Evil Sorcerer: Rasputin, even before he sold his soul, is known as a nasty mystic.
- Expy: Vlad is basically Papa Mousekewitz as a human.
- Fake Aristocrat: Dimitri's plan is to set up Anya up as one — not knowing that she's not a fake aristocrat at all.
- Family-Unfriendly Death: Rasputin's death was another offender. His body parts melt into nasty green ooze and his cloak collapses to the ground. And then his skeleton emerges, screaming in agony while being shocked by green electricity. His final death comes as a relief. Oh, and it isn't a Karmic Death, Anastasia knows just what she's doing when she destroys the reliquary that is keeping him alive.
- Freudian Slip: Used in a literal sense when Sigmund Freud, singing along with "Paris Holds the Key," slips on a banana.
- Funny Background Event: A subtle penis joke is made in a scene involving Sigmund Freud slipping on a banana peel.
- Game Changer: Dimitri schools Anya with every fact regarding the lost Princess Anastasia that he can think of. When Sophie asks something he hadn't thought to tell Anya about, he thinks the con is blown - until Anya describes, vaguely but correctly, how it was she managed to escape the riots at the palace. This is something that only Grand Duchess Marie, Dmitri, and Anastasia herself could possibly have known about. Only then does Dmitri realize that, rather than a lookalike, he's found the real Anastasia.
- Gay Paree: The song "Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart" shows off the swanky, fashionable and romantic aspect of Paris.
- Genki Girl: Sophie.
- Girls Need Role Models: At the time it was astonishingly rare for any children's movie to have a lead Female Protagonist. Even then the female lead might end up reliant on male characters.note
- Give Me a Sign: When Anya prays for a sign, a dog steals her scarf and runs over to the path to St. Petersburg.
- Gonk: Even before he became a rotting corpse, Rasputin, what with his bone thin physique, pale skin, skull like face with bulging eyes, a pointy nose and ears, messy hair and grotesquely large hands with pointy nails, was not a pretty sight.
- Grand Staircase Entrance: Anya makes her deput as a princess by going down one of these. Dimitri is certainly amazed.
- Greater Scope Villain: The Dark Forces that Rasputin sold his soul to and gained most of his powers from to get revenge on the Romanov family. The deal he made with them spectacularly backfires; first he's reduced to a decaying zombie stuck in limbo after he drowns and stuck like that until the last Romanov dies, and when his reliquary is destroyed, they immediately claim him, and he dies a rather horrific death.
- Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: Very little is mentioned in the way of politics after the fall of the Romanovs (as well as before, for that matter). The original script for Anastasia inverted this; during the scene where Anya attempts to get train tickets, several of the people waiting in line were going to be refraining from making complaints about the Soviet government in case they were being watched. One guy later would, and was going to be abruptly abducted and taken away. There are several 'blink-and-you-will-miss-it' moments though:
- Vlad complains when the colour of the ink for travel papers changes from blue to red, blowing his forged ones: "That's what I hate about this government, everything is in red!"
- We see (presumably) Mensheviks storm the palace, but rather than having diverse public grievances, it's indicated to be the result of Rasputin's rabble-rousing and Deal with the Devil.
- When Anya tries to get a ticket, the man at the ticket counter does in fact have a hammer and sickle on his hat.
- On the train, the camera momentarily looks over one of the character's shoulders at his tickets. One can make out 'Union of Soviet Socialist Republics' with the attendant emblems.
- Happily Ever After: In the movie, Anya is reunited with her grandmother, but decides to stay out of the spotlight and marries Dimitri.
- Headdesk: Before they meet Anya, Dimitri and Vlad are holding an audition for girls to play Anastasia. One prospect is a middle-aged woman, who says in a sultry voice, "Granmama! It's me, Ana-STASIA!" Their reaction is a combination Head Desk and Face Palm.
- The Heavy: The entire plot kicks off because Rasputin used his newfound dark powers to trigger the revolution against the Romanovs, which indirectly causes Anastasia to get separated from her grandmother. It also bears noting that he and Anastasia only encounter each other for a very brief moment at the very beginning, and during the climax—the rest of the time, Rasputin is trying to kill her with his demons while he's stuck in Limbo to get revenge and fulfill his curse, but the heroes are completely unaware of his presence until the climax.
- Held Gaze: Two happen between Anya and Dimitri during the Almost Kiss scenes and another one happens before The Big Damn Kiss scene at the conclusion.
- High Class Gloves: Both Anya and Marie wear long gloves to the opera, as was the fashion at the time. Marie scenting hers with peppermint triggered Anya's memories.
- Historical-Domain Character: Pretty much everyone except for Dimitri, Vlad, Pooka, and Bartok (obviously...).
- Historical Fantasy: All the complaints about the movie's historical inaccuracies seem a little weird when you stop and think that it also includes an undead wizard and a talking bat.
- Historical Hero Upgrade: The Romanovs have a very small role in this film. All we see is Nicholas telling Rasputin to leave his party, and given how Obviously Evil he looks, Nick looks good in comparison. In reality they were hardly ideal rulers, leaning toward oppression of ethnic minorities among other things. The story also starts in 1916, but their mismanagement of World War I is not even mentioned. They've historically gotten a pass simply because the Soviets were so much worse, or possibly because Everything's Better with Princesses.
- Historical Villain Upgrade: While many things have been said of him, the real Rasputin wasn't an evil undead warlock who sold his soul to the forces of evil for revenge on the Romanovs. Rasputin was an enigma but undoubtedly an ally of the Romanovs; the important ones, anyway. Several relatives kinda hated him and plotted his death like Grand Duke Felix Yusupov. In one of the older drafts for the film, Rasputin only became a bad guy after surviving the historical assassination attempt against him, leading him to orchestrate their downfall out of a genuine desire for revenge (this is referenced in his Villain Song by "When the royals betrayed me they made a mistake"). He would also justify this trope in a later scene by revealing his lying low over the years meant historians never realised how connected he was to the fall of the Romanovs.
- Hypnotize the Princess: Rasputin uses magic to make Anya sleepwalk off the side of the ship she's on in a storm. Dimitri fortunately stops her and wakes her up before she can jump.
- If We Get Through This: There's a literal example in dialogue.
Dimitri: If we live through this, remind me to thank you.
(which Anastasia repeats in the ending sequence before Dimitri cuts her off)
Anastasia: If we live through this, remind me-
Dimitri: You can thank me later.
- I'm Not Afraid of You: Anastasia uses this line verbatim near the end of the movie, when Rasputin is attempting to drown her in the river. His response?
Rasputin: I can fix that!
- Inhuman Human: Rasputin Came Back Wrong, and is rather narked about it.
- In-Name-Only: The film was supposedly "based on" the play by Marcel Maurette. Don Bluth turned it into a musical with Rasputin as an undead sorcerer with a talking bat sidekick, among other changes (the play had already been faithfully adapted to a 1956 film starring Yul Brynner and Ingrid Bergman).
- In the Past, Everyone Will Be Famous: A few historical characters show up in the song "Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart": Maurice Chevalier, Sigmund Freud, Charles Lindbergh, Josephine Baker, Claude Monet, Isadora Duncan, Auguste Rodin, and Gertrude Stein. All of them are going shopping on the same night in the same street and all happen to know the words to the song. The movie features a singing Gertrude Stein. This might be the most historically correct part of the movie as both Hemingway and Bennett Cerf wrote of Gertrude's inability to walk by someone playing a piano without sitting down and singing along.
- I Remember It Like It Was Yesterday: Used for irony: a young woman claiming to be Anastasia uses the stock phrase before rattling off a list of facts about Anastasia's childhood in an effort to prove her identity to Dowager Empress Marie. The viewer of course already knows that she's lying, and furthermore that the real Anastasia doesn't remember anything about her childhood.
- Ironic Echo: "Do svidaniya!" Said first by Rasputin as he's about to kill Anya, then repeated by her when she's breaking his reliquary.
- It Has Only Just Begun: When Sophie refers to Anya and Dimitri's elopement as 'the perfect ending', the Empress corrects her, saying 'No, it's a perfect beginning.'
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Dimitri, shown most clearly when he refuses the reward money for reuniting Anastasia and her grandmother.
- "I Want" Song: "Journey to the Past", sung by Anya as she dares to travel to Paris, to find a real family. Then "Once Upon A December" where she struggles with her empty past.
- Karma Houdini: Vlad had zero problems with helping Dimitri scam the Duchess out of her money and, unlike Dimitri who goes through a Change Of Heart borderline Heel–Face Turn and at least gets a beating from Rasputin's magical minions near the end, never suffers any kind of repercussions or learns a lesson. If anything, his life only improves after setting out on such a cruel scheme!
- Keep the Reward: After con man Dimitri returns the lost princess Anastasia to her grandmother, Marie, he refused the reward and left without telling her, so as to draw her contempt and hoping to sever any ties so that she could live happily without him to drag her down.
- Large Ham: Rasputin loves shouting and gesturing with his Soul Jar. (considering his voice actor, this isn't surprising) His acting is about as subtle as a screaming hyena.
- Reformed, but Rejected: Dimitri is rejected by The Dowager Empress and "Anya" once they learn about his "Anastasia Auditions". Even after he tries to make up for it Anya still rejects him, and then the climax happens.
- The Remake: The film is officially a Disneyfication/fantasticization of the 1956 Ingrid Bergman film (itself a play adaptation).note
- Road Trip Romance: Dimitri and Anya travel from St. Petersburg, Russia to Paris, France and by the time they arrive they are deep in BST. Then they elope and leave Paris.
- Rotten Rock & Roll: Rasputin's Villain Song, "In the Dark of the Night", has a rocking tune, complete with electric guitars.
- Rule of Symbolism: By Word of God, the reason for the seeming Big Lipped Alligator Moment, "Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart", is not merely to show off Bernadette Peters, nor 1920's Paris, but a reflection of both cultural progress at the time and Anastasia's Character Development. On the one hand, by the '20s the Soviet republics were reeling from the White Army and foreign invasion, something Europe did not contend with, with much of this renaissance based in Paris; on the other hand, this ties into Anya leaving a dead world for one vibrant and alive, paralleling her leaving behind an empty, soulless existence for one where she could bloom, grow, and begin a new, happy life.
- Runaway Train: Complete with a graphically-explosive crash to top it all off, and Dimitri commenting afterward "I HATE trains, remind me to never get on a train again."
- Satellite Love Interest: Taken to its logical extreme. Bartok the Bat abandons Rasputin near the end, and is rewarded with a pink bat who flies in and kisses him.
- Scenery Porn: The usage of CinemaScope really shows off some great views of St. Petersburg, Paris, and the interiors of palaces.
- Sexual Karma: Rasputin's bat sidekick abandons him at the climax and is awarded a female bat at the end with no explanation.
- She Cleans Up Nicely: Yes, Dimitri, that elegant lady in the Parisian Opera dress is the "skinny little brat" you're ogling at the ballet. Now close your mouth, honey, you're gonna catch flies.
- Shipper on Deck: Vlad catches on pretty quickly that Anya and Dimitri have a Slap-Slap-Kiss thing going. He also gets the two to dance and sings a song about this... on the ship to Paris. It's also fun watching his face in the background as the two interact.
- Shoo Out the Clowns: Just before the final confrontation, Bartok decides he's had enough of Rasputin obsessing over murdering an innocent girl, and abandons him.
- Shopping Montage: When Anya and co. get to Paris, Dowager Empress Marie's cousin Sophie takes them shopping while "Paris Holds The Key (To Your Heart)" is sung. They also go sightseeing during the song.
- Shown Their Work: Despite the historical liberties taken (some for the sake of the medium and length, some to spare children the grisly truth about the Russian Revolution, and some for simple poetic license) and myths bought into (aside from the urban legend about Anastasia herself, nods are given to Rasputin's alleged exaggerated death), a great deal of work was done to otherwise display geographical and biographical accuracy.
- Photography, including aerial shots, enabled startlingly true-to-life likenesses of St. Petersburg and Paris and the inside of the Winter Palace;
- Period costumes and trains were duplicated, as well as historical figures living in Paris at the time;
- Actual relics of the Romanovs were scanned into the computers and inserted within the movie, including photographs of the family shown on Marie's wall and the drawing Anastasia made when she was eight years old, which was drawn by the real Anastasia...
- All of the bathing suits worn by Anastasia, her father, and her sisters during the dream sequence, and the sailor suit worn by her little brother, are also reproductions of the actual suits worn on their frequent family vacations.
- Even the notion of Rasputin cursing the Romanovs is based off of an anecdotal account that, on one of the few occasions Nicholas and other nobles became worried about the influence he had over Alexandra and foreign policy, Rasputin threatened the family with a pox if he were dismissed from court.
- In the number "Paris Holds the Key to Your Heart" the backgrounds all look very Impressionistic, and that was the popular painting style at the time.
- Show Within a Show: Anya, Dimitri, and Vlad are treated to the Parisian ballet by Marie's assistant (and Vlad's "cream puff"), and the ballet in question is Cinderella - what do you mean, there's no parallel?
- Sickly Green Glow: Rasputin's reliquary oozes with this, as do his phantom minions.
- Simple Yet Opulent: Anya's blue dress for the opera looks simpler than her other ones but is no less elegant.
- Slap-Slap-Kiss: Literally at the end, where Anya accidentally smacks Dimitri in the face, and then cradles his face in her hands for an Almost Kiss.
- Slasher Smile: Rasputin shows this in his first entrance. Bonus points for this happening as the narrator talks about the danger he presents.
- Somewhere Song: "Journey to the Past". Anastasia dreams of going to Paris, which she believes holds all the answers to her mysterious childhood.
- Soul Jar: Rasputin's reliquary was already a powerful magical weapon before it became this, but he turned it into a phylactery as part of his devil bargain, as well as the source of his magic. Whether or not it siphons off his soul's power is up for debate.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Sadly, Anastasia herself - it was finally confirmed in 2008 that the real Anastasia did in fact die with the rest of her family that night.
- Stealth Pun: One of the historical cameos is Sigmund Freud, who slips on a banana peel.
- Stripped to the Bone:
- Rasputin has his flesh torn off as a result of his deal with the dark forces. He is forced to restore it with his phylactery.
- Averted during Rasputin's death scene. He melts down to the bone and writhes briefly, but he then decays further into dust.
- Stuff Blowing Up: The film loves this trope, mostly for the effects animators to show off (such as the Runaway Train violently exploding in a large, stereotypical Hollywood explosion with sparks flying upward!).
- Take My Hand: During Anastasia's and the Empress's escape from St. Petersburg, the Empress gets on a moving train, and tries to grab hold of Anastasia's hand. She fails, and Anastasia is left behind.
- Technicolor Death: Rasputin decomposes in flashes of green light after the title character steps on his talisman.
- That Russian Squat Dance: Appears rather prominently with the crowd during "A Rumor in St. Petersburg."
- Thinker Pose: Dimitri does one of these next to the actual sculpture during a musical number in Paris.
- This Is Gonna Suck: Before the final confrontation between Anastasia and Rasputin, Bartok abandons his master, saying, "This will only end in tears."
- Trampled Underfoot: Rasputin steps over a drinking glass that a guest at the ball had dropped as he makes his evil Power Walk through the crowd. Given a nice Call Back later at the end of the film, when Anastasia destroys his reliquary by stepping on it multiple times, dedicating the blows to her family, Dimitri, and to Rasputin himself—"Da svidanya!"