Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Russians are Sucking! The Russians are Sucking!: "Anastasia" (1997)

Fox makes like Disney, bad Disney, and slaps together a silly, treacly, boring story about the famed "missing" Russian princess.

Mean old Rasputin (voiced by Christopher Lloyd) curses the Romanov family and some convenient Communists follow suit and murder them. Young Anastasia (Kirsten Dunst) escapes with Grandma (Angela Lansbury), but the two are separated, and Anastasia loses her memory.

Ten years later in St. Petersburg, Dmitri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer) are looking for someone to portray the princess to Grandma so they can collect a reward. An amnesiac Anastasia (say that three times fast) is released from an orphanage, and meets up with the pair. The three are off to Paris, not realizing the fake Anastasia (now voiced by Meg Ryan) is the real Anastasia. Rasputin, who died in the opening scenes, is somehow resurrected with some help from his "funny" sidekick, Bartok the bat (Hank Azaria), and tries to complete his curse by killing Anastasia, first with a train wreck (like this film) then permeating her dreams and having her sleepwalk off a ship.

Anastasia sees Granny, everything seems to be working out, Dimitri falls in love with the princess, but Rasputin makes a final try at murder at a giant coming-out ball to celebrate Anastasia's return. You can guess the outcome of the finale.

I hate musicals. I hate Meg Ryan. I hated this movie. A good musical will use its songs to propel the plot or give us some insight into the characters, here they serve as nothing more but hopeful Oscar nominations. The animated cast sings and goes through dance numbers worthy of a Broadway show, even ending the tunes with flourish as if waiting for applause...keep waiting. For singing Russians that actually work, rent the best musical ever- "Fiddler on the Roof."

Cusack, Lloyd, and Ryan sport American accents, yet Grammer has a Russian accent. Lansbury has her semi-British accent, and no one seems to try and get the cast on one specific accent. Is this Russia or not? Cusack sounds like he forgot his anti-depressants in his other pants, delivering his lines with a solemnity not heard since Ben Kingsley typed up "Schindler's List." Meg Ryan still believes she is in a romantic comedy, saying all her lines in a clipped delivery that is completely wrong for her noble character.

There are five different writers credited here, and none of them could come up with a funny joke. One liners are tossed off that even my five year old would have groaned at, and the film lurches from scene to scene without any energy or fun.

Don Bluth puts the final nail in the coffin containing his big screen career, co-directing with Gary Goldman. All the characters look like every other character he has ever drawn. Computer animation is mixed in with the hand drawn animation, but the two never mesh together well, leading me to believe it was done to hurry the film along through production. Throw in the cute puppy, a rotting Rasputin, the annoying Bartok, and a plot that has been copied from better films, and "Anastasia" is a disaster.

You could argue that I am not the audience for this, but if this is "just a kid's film," then you should be arrested for child abuse. From Russia, with loathing. (*) out of five stars.