Considering the successes of Disney’s animated princess fairytales, you would think other studios would try their hand at the well-established formula. But, this is really the only one I’ve heard of. In fact, some people confuse this movie for Disney. So does Fox Animation Studio’s attempt dent a crack at Disney’s monopoly? Eh, I guess it depends on what you mean by the words “dent” and “crack.”
Anastasia is one of those movies that has a lot of good and a lot of bad. I guess the first thing I’ll comment on is the animation. While I didn’t have the time to say this in my Disney reviews, I’ve never really liked when they incorporated the 3D animation into the 2D. I guess my biggest problem with it was that it was used like once throughout an entire movie. Anastasia fixes this problem by consistently utilizing computer graphics. Unfortunately, I personally found it mostly distracting. I don’t know; there’s something about an entirely hand animated film like The Little Mermaid that appeals to me, but maybe it’s just my bias getting to me. Needless to say, the computer-enhanced animation that accompanies Once Upon a December is fantastically spooky.
While we’re on the topic of musical numbers, only this one really stands out. Yes, there are other songs that deserve to be mentioned; the two that comes to mind are Journey to the Past and Learn to Do It. However, Fox simply has nothing interesting for their characters to do while they sing. Just think about it. Why do we love Be Our Guest and Under the Sea so much? Sure, the songs are catchy, but the animation? Just suburb—the candle stick is juggling, the crab is conducting, the glass-ware is singing, the fish are dancing, and in Anastasia, the princess is flailing her arms. Sometimes, less is more, and the characters’ motions seem so unnaturally enthusiastic at times. I guess my overall feeling about the animation is that it tries too hard, although there is the occasional triumph from such effort. As for the songs, they’re not really Disney, but in a surprisingly good way. I think what did it for me was the strong vocal performance from Liz Callaway. I mean, wow, no one would have complained if she casted as a Disney princess. I also like the lyrics. Anastasia is like an Ariel or a Belle who is dreaming of something that hasn’t been offered to her, but Ariel and Belle always seemed so certain about their dreams. Anastasia? Just look at what she sings:
Heart don’t fail me now
Courage don’t desert me
Don’t turn back now that we’re here
People always say
Life is full of choices
No one ever mentions fear
Or how the world can seems so vast
On this journey to the past
I mean, once again, wow! Anastasia is actually afraid of her own dreams. She is afraid about herself as a person, she is afraid about why other people, like Ariel or Belle, never “mentions fear.” That is actually pretty deep, and unique at the very least. However, this premise turns into a physical one. What could have been a story about Anastasia growing as a character or learning life-altering lessons morphs into Anastasia finding her blood-related family, or whatever is left of it, that is. The fact that Anastasia is left nothing else to do besides finding her family makes her boring. In fact, all of the characters in this movie are boring. Look, Fox decided they were so boring that all of them needed side-kicks. I’m serious; there’s a cute dog that follows Anastasia out of nowhere, and there’s a weird bat thing that follows the villain for absolutely no reason.
This brings me to the biggest problem of this movie: the tone. Everything established at the beginning of the movie makes it seem like it’s going to be a more mature and darker take on the Disney fairytale formula, but then you have comic relief characters that ruin that tone. I’m not just referring to the side-kicks. I’m talking about the villain; I’m talking about Sophie, I’m talking about Vladimir. It’s like Hollywood never learns: all the best movies stick with a tone and never look back. Sure, these are also the movies that miserably sink and fall, but that’s how you get out of cinema normality.
Anastasia begins with glowing potential, and slowly starts to degrade into kid-friendly ordinariness to the point where I started noticing stolen ideas from Beauty and the Beast. Whether that was something as minute as animating past the leaves of an autumn tree or something as thematic as trying to utilize the rose as a symbol, at least Anastasia sought out the correct template. But maybe Fox would’ve been better not using a Disney template. Sure, they do a great job at bringing back the songs, the strong female vocals, the grand castles, the dance sequences; but the problem is, the stuff that is unique to this movie is not done well. Fox Animation Studio, you may be a good reviewer of traditionally animated fairytales, but I’d leave Disney to actually producing them.