Disney had better prepare for some not-so-friendly competition. A number of studios, including 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks, are out to prove that Mickey Mouse and Co. aren't the only ones who can create quality feature animation. A prime example is the recent Fox release, Anastasia, an entertaining, technically top-drawer musical about the orphaned Romanov princess and her quest for a place to belong.
Anastasia (rated G) is loosely based on events surrounding the Russian revolution. As a little girl, Anastasia loses her family when the evil Rasputin returns from exile to place a curse on the royals and ignite national conflict. Violence erupts. And though Anastasia survives the angry mob, she ends up lost, alone and anonymous. Ten years later, she begins searching for clues to her identity. She stumbles upon Dimitri and Vlad, con men who decide to pass her off as the long-lost Anastasia in order to secure a hefty reward. Little do these likable scoundrels know they're dealing with the real princess. After much verbal sparring, Dimitri and Anastasia fall in love.
The film's most noteworthy negative involves the occultism of Rasputin, the vengeful sorcerer who unleashes demonic forces on Anastasia and her friends as he decomposes in a state of metaphysical limbo. Beyond the spiritual implications, several of these scenes may frighten young children. It may also bother parents that, despite showing kindness and loyalty, Dimitri and Vlad never repent for years of theft, forgery and fraud.
Fortunately, however, the innocent, spunky Anastasia takes a stand in areas of honesty and integrity, and values her sense of identity more highly than riches ("I just want to know who I am--if I'm part of a family"). The film equates true love with personal sacrifice, and includes characters who make it clear that women can be self-confident and attractive to men without looking like Pocahontas.
Anastasia won't single-handedly overthrow the Magic Kingdom, but it may signal an end to Disney's decade of uncontested dominance over animated tales. As Time magazine reported recently, "The next few years will see the biggest splurge of cartoon features ever." Watch your back, Mickey.