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Why Anastasia Rocks

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Last year, I did a series on the classic Disney princess movies, analyzing them to see whether they are as traditional and anti-feminist as some people believe. In a couple of weeks, I’m going to revive the series with a look at movies from the Disney Renaissance. But first, I want to look at a non-Disney movie from that era that should be counted in the canon, for theme and animation and music and general awesomeness, if not for the studio that produced it.

Because Anastasia is a fantastic movie. Historical accuracy is not its forte, but it’s also not meant to be. It has zombie Rasputin singing about his hatred of the Romanovs from limbo with a backing choir of luminescent bugs. Clearly, some creative license is going on here. At its heart, Anastasia is an animated fairy tale, adding an optimistic, happily-ever-after, zombie-filled spin on one of the most popular romanticized myths of the 20th century: that the Princess Anastasia somehow survived the revolution and would one day reemerge and find happiness after an otherwise traumatic period of history.

And although it’s not a faithful presentation of Anastasia’s tale, I’d argue that it is a wonderful and feminist movie (as well as being just so darn fun and adorable).

It’s about two women finding one another

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Basically, this is one of those rare movies that has a Bechdel pass built into its core. Anya is searching for information on her past, and, more specifically, for the family that she believes may be in Paris. Her grandmother, aided by Sophie, is desperately seeking her lost granddaughter who she believes may have survived. Two women, searching for one another across Europe. Female characters and their motivations and desires are the very heart of the movie.

“Family” is a flexible thing

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Anastasia is about finding family, if a slightly untraditional one, driven by the bond between a grandmother and her favorite granddaughter. And at the end, both Anastasia and her grandmother find it. But the movie doesn’t then insist that they must stay together always, or that Anastasia must change who she is because they’re reunited again. Anastasia finds her blood relative, and she’s delighted to do so, but she also discovers a family of choice, in Vlad, her dog Pooka, and of course Dmitri. She has a chance to become a princess and join her grandmother’s rich and exclusive lifestyle, but instead, she integrates her newfound self-knowledge with the family she already built for herself. She will love and spend time with her grandmother, but she will be her own person too.

Anastasia is a really fun, independent, strong-minded character

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Seriously, Anya/Anastasia is an amazing character. She’s brave and out-spoken and self-confident and honest. She’s quick-witted in conversation and she thinks on her feet in a crisis. But she also expresses fear about setting off on her own path and seeking out her family. She can be a little bit bratty. And perhaps she’s a bit naive too, for not figuring out that Dmitri was a con man until they got to Paris. Yay for compelling and flawed animated protagonists!

The true love isn’t insta-love

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In fact, it’s my favorite kind of romantic subplot. They dislike each other! They bicker! There’s tension! One saves the life of the other, and slowly a friendship develops. They elope in the end, but a lot of time has passed during the course of the movie. They basically walked and travelled by bus from Russia to Germany, and then took a boat to Paris, and then had to wait to speak to Anastasia’s grandmother. We’re talking months of travel with only each other and Vlad for company here. So we get a really adorable romance to ship, a fairy tale happy ending, and believable progression in the middle, with the idea that you might just want to spend an extended period of time with somebody and see their flaws before you declare your eternal love forever.

The world is populated by women as well as men

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Studies show that crowd scenes in movies tend to be only 17% women. I didn’t exactly sit and count the number of men and women on screen, but I got the sense it was more than 17%. We saw men and women working and gossiping in St Petersburg. And on the train. And on the road. And dancing in Paris. And at the opera. The owner of the orphanage is a woman who berates Anya before sending her on her way. A woman advises Anya to see Dmitri. And after comments from the Frozen animators about the difficulty of making varied female characters because they have to be pretty, it’s refreshing to see that these background female characters have a variety of faces and sizes.

The music!!

Once Upon A December may be my favorite Disney song, and it’s not even Disney. Now that’s an achievement.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

8 thoughts on “Why Anastasia Rocks

  1. What happened to the real Anastasia?
    My only problem with the movie is the bit where a man tries to convince Dimitri that he’s Anastasia: it’s supposed to be “funny”, but I think it comes off as slightly transphobic. Then again, I’m really not an expert, and I may be wrong. I love everything else about this movie, and this is a great article!

    1. The real Anastasia was killed along with her family by the Bolsheviks in 1918 during the Russian Revolution. Since they were killed in secret, and no one knew what happened to their bodies afterwards, there were lots of rumors that some of the family (especially Anastasia) might have survived, and some people claimed to be Anastasia over the next few decades, but about twenty years ago, graves with all the bodies were found.

  2. Hello,
    I stumbled accross your blog yesterday, and since then didnt stop to read your articles, which I find brilliant and perspicacious. I enjoyed this article on Anastasia a lot (especially the remark on the crowd and small parts being as much men than women), however i must say that I disagree on 2 points: quality of animation and flexibility of family concept.

    – As an animator, I regret that all the human animations in Don Bluth’s movies (Thumbelina, Titan AE, Anastasia, etc.) are always rotoscopy (i.e. real actors play the scene, you shoot it, and then you trace your character over source footage, frame by frame, to create the animation of your character. I hope I explain it correctly).
    It’s visible, it’s ugly, it’s uncreative, and it doesn’t seem “believable” ou “natural” because you are copying real life actions instead of analyzing and reintepreting them.
    That’s only my opinion, but I really think Anastasia’s human animations (like the other Bluth movies) are really mediocre (compared to what Glen Kean, Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg, and many more animatores have achieved in other studios).

    – I disagree too when you say that she didn’t choose the royal life her real family could give her because she prefered adventurous/simple life with the family she found and created along the way. She doesn’t leave with dimitry, vlad and pooka, for all I know vlad is so in love with Sophie that I can’t imagine him leaving her after crossing half europe to be reunited with her. Maybe I’m wrong with the way I interpret it, but that’s how I see it.
    So Anya in the end leaves her family for true love. And until yesterday, that really bugged me. Like “yeah, she choose the man. it’s boring and anti-feminist”. But since I’ve read your blog and you open my eyes on this: true love doesn’t make a protagonist or a movie anti-feminist. Thank you a lot for that :).
    But still, its bugs me because somehow, she makes a choice between her family and her BF. She waited and hoped for years to find her family, to find her own identity, she crossed half europe, survived many dangers and beat a crazy immortal sorcerer to get back to those who love her and had lost her. And as soon as she finds them she leaves? With the guy? She follows him, I thought she was an active woman and she just follows him. He could have stayed with her and her family, it’s not incompatible with traveling the world, living adventures and being free.

    Anyway, sorry for the long post. I love you blog because I agree with you 99M of the time. But now I love it even more when I see that we some times don’t agree 😉
    Take care, thank you for your work and keep posting!
    (Ps I hope my english is not too bad, I’m french ^^)

    Bambi-Killer

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! (And your english is great!). So happy to hear you enjoy the blog! :)

      As for Anya leaving, you’re right that it’s pretty sudden, after assumedly months of trying to get to her grandmother in the first place, but I got the feeling that she and Dmitri were going to come back pretty soon. This way she could have the family she wanted AND adventures elsewhere, which I think is pretty cool. But yeah, she didn’t necessarily have to elope RIGHT AWAY.

      And I know pretty much nothing about animation (except “oo that looks pretty”), so thanks for the explanation there. I’d heard of rotoscoping, but I didn’t realize whole movies were done that way (or that it was tracing, rather than just a reference image).

  3. I enjoy this movie pretty much and I think it’s reasonably feminist, which is awesome. What I can’t get over, however, is it’s awful politics. The movie clearly makes an anti-Russian Revolution propaganda, with songs about how it made St. Petersburg worse (which ignores completely how the people were oppressed under the czar rule), and later celebrating shopping in Paris like it’s the solution for everybody’s problems. And whats more impressive is that all this is very explicit, they don’t even try to disguise it!
    I always found it sad that Disney and other animation companies love to remake fairytales that celebrates monarchy. Especially in movies such as Lion King, in which race (or species) and class metaphors make it so problematic. When it’s about a real-life royal family, however, I think it’s even more unfortunate to gloss over all that happened historically in favor of capitalist ideology and monarchies. Kids watch it and start to form their view of the world from that.

    1. That’s an interesting point about shopping in Paris compared to the bleak communist openings, but I’m not sure you can tell the story of Anastasia (even the barely-connected-to-history sort here) and not come out anti-Revolution. The movie seriously softened what happened to the royal family, because the reality was not suitable for children’s animation, but even that is fairly grim. And obviously, the Communist Revolution in Russia did not end well for many, many people, even if many people were struggling under the Tsar’s rule as well. I think one potential problem is with the presentation of Rasputin, and this idea that the royal family were only overthrown because he cursed them, and not because of any genuine discontent. But then, it’s a children’s movie, and the complicated politics of revolution don’t make as good villains as the ridiculousness of Rasputin ramped up to 11.

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