The world of animation sure has come a long way, especially when we compare the animated films that come out today to the early Disney films such as Snow White and Bambi. The amazing studio introduced us to the best animated movies we grew up with, and inspired other animation studios to greatness.
Throughout the 90s, animated films were on a meteoric rise and succeeded not only critically, but at the box office as well. Disney especially churned out numerous hits throughout that era and in quick succession, including: The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and the list sure goes on. But throughout a period rather at the tail end of the 90s, a film that would turn out to be considered a sleeper hit would come out and surprise audiences everywhere. That animated film was none other than 20th Century Fox's Anastasia.
There are, in fact, so many interesting things about this movie that have never really been discussed! Have no fear, we here at TheGamer proudly bring you a whopping 20 awesome and secret things about the movie you never knew and will be quite surprised to discover.
So sit back, put your feet up and enjoy as we take you down a trip through the history of film and history and step into a magical world of discovery.
20 A Disney Princess?
That is in fact a very popular misconception! Because the film was released in a style of film very similar to Disney, many have often believed that Anastasia was indeed one of the multitudes of classic Disney princesses.
As it turns out, she was not, as the film was released by 20th Century Fox Animation Studios.
When we look back, it sure is surprising to think that the film was not one of the old Disney productions, as it sure has the feel and style of one.
Well, the film stood on its own as an original. However, we should mention that a 2017 merger between Disney and 20th Century Fox might soon change all this. Does this mean that Anastasia will finally take her rightful place among the other Disney princesses?
We hope so.
19 A Critical Success!
Any artist knows that the hardest people to impress are those extremely and highly opinionated critics. Whether you’re a singer an actor, writer or filmmaker, those critics will get you in the end, no matter how well your piece of art is doing—whatever format.
As it turns out, Anastasia actually did extremely well with the critics in North America. They weren’t at all harsh on the film and gave it rave reviews. Mike Clark of USA Today said: “The film's strength lies not just with its haunting melodies, pretty pictures and kid-friendly sidekicks, but in an emotionally gripping script.”
Critiques such as the latter only further promote the film and help it along on its way to success, as was the case for this film. Many people may have missed the Fox hit when it came out, but that's rapidly changing.
18 Based On Reality!
So to briefly embark on a trip down historical avenues, it must be said that the film was based on actual events. The title character is referenced upon the actual existence of Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia. Her unfortunate story is in fact a well-known one, as she passed away at the young age of 17—she was born in 1901 and ultimately passed on in 1918.
However, legend has it that young Anastasia hadn’t passed on at all and had merely escaped with her life intact, but there are varying beliefs if that was actually the case. The search for the princess was a well-documented 20th century phenomenon, ending in the confirmed fact that she didn't outlive her family.
Her story was indeed rich and full of the twists and turns even more captivating than the actual animated film and is worth looking into for anyone interested in a little history.
17 Feels Like Disney
So many animated films were released over the last few decades, and if we look at them broadly, many of them seem to share classic animation styles. Sure, the characters change, but the dynamics of the films sure are similar. They take the audience on numerous adventures that at the end of the day are rather “basic” in terms of plot.
That’s why so many of the films kind of overlap in our minds when thinking about certain scenes.
Unfortunately, Anastasia was not exempt from those same set of circumstances, despite not having been a Disney feature, as we stated earlier. But the reason for this is pretty obvious at that: the film was produced and directed by previous Walt Disney employees, Don Bluth and Gary Goldman.
16 Opinionated Russian Historians
Well, to do well critically is one thing, but to lose points because your film isn’t historically accurate is pretty much the most embarrassing mistake you can make on a historically-inspired work.
Although one could understand why the film didn’t stick to the historical facts, since it dealt with the turmoil and the effects of civil war in Russia. An accurate depiction of the film would have definitely made it a lot less popular among young viewers of the 6-13 age demographic, we’re sure.
However, historians have their point as well, as bad or untrue depictions of historical figures tend to eschew the world view of such powerful and influential world personages. But at the end of the day, it was an animated film, so maybe Fox could have been given a little break after all.
15 A Long Time Coming
It’s a long road from conceptualizing and writing a film to actually having it made and released. No movie comes together overnight —certainly not a good one, in any case. It takes time to write the screenplay, find a director and distributor, actors, voice actors and the list indeed goes on. But what most people never think about are the investors! Most, if not all, films need a lot of those.
By the time everything comes together, the movie is pretty much good to go. However, there have been a few movies that take a lot longer than others to come to fruition, as was the case for Anastasia. As it turns out, this particular film took three years to come out since it was first conceptualized. It does seem long for an animated film, but still, it was well worth the wait.
14 Sing That Tune!
The story of Anastasia sure has touched multitudes of people all over the world as we’ve stated in this article, and as of 2017, the story is still touching the hearts of audiences.
With lyrics and music by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, the musical is based on the 1997 film and premiered about 20 years after the animated film appeared in theatres. It couldn’t have happened sooner! Audiences were ready to accept Anastasia back into their collective hearts once again.
Who knows what’s next for this beloved character?
13 Financial Success
At the end of the day, a movie cannot be considered a success if it hasn’t made more money than the production companies put in: it’s just that simple. No matter how much of a cult classic a film becomes, it cannot stand up in terms of financial success on any list no matter how you look at it.
Fortunately for Fox, the film did well after all and made loads and loads of cash at the box office.
When looking in terms of finances, producers forked over 50 million to make the film and ended up making 139.8 million in grossing sales. It also did well when it was released on VHS. This by no means compares Anastasia to blockbuster sales of this new millennium, when top films gross in the high hundreds of millions. However, for the time and considering how much was spent on it, the film did well monetarily.
12 A Classic
What often goes unsaid is that an adaptation of the Anastasia story was already committed to film, and well over 60 years ago.
The film was live-action and starred huge and influential actors of the era. Yul Brynner of The Ten Commandments and The Magnificent Seven fame and Ingrid Bergman of Joan of Arc and Murder On The Orient Express fame and finally, Helen Hayes who starred in some of the era’s biggest films including: A Farewell To Arms, My Son John and Night Flight.
The film was obviously a little more serious in nature and kept a little more to the actual historical events. This 1956 version did very well in terms of critical and financial success as well.
11 Her Story Lives On
As is often the case, when a topic of interest and moment in history becomes a cultural phenomenon, there is bound to be a lot of work inspired by that event. The events detailed in the life of the real Anastasia have no doubt inspired many to tackle the story of her life.
As it turns out, her story was also tackled in the fictional book forum by Canadian author Sharon Stewart, appropriately named My Anastasia. The book is nothing like the film and the author has developed a story based on her very own research, but what should always be remembered is that it is, in fact, fictitious.
That doesn’t take anything away from the book, however, as it has a fan base of its own and has done well. The book was released by Scholastic and is considered a novel for young readers.
10 Queen Of The 90s
Actors are pretty picky when it comes to choosing roles, but this is rather a trait successful actors share. They have the luxury of taking their time to pick the roles that are just right for them, especially these days. Of course that isn’t the case for all actors, as many acting whatever script comes their way, desperately trying to capture lightning in a bottle at every turn and with every role.
And that also goes for actors that do voice work in animated films or video games! Lending out one’s voice for such work is very important and is actually very lucrative in Hollywood and in the 90s, it was just as important.
Meg Ryan who voiced the character of the adult Anastasia certainly took her time making her decision, as she was very worried about the real life controversies surrounding the Anastasia persona.
9 Rasputin's End
In the film, Grigori Rasputin represents the villainous side of the film, which he pulls off with convincing aplomb. He is evil sorcerer who casts a most terrible spell that would end the lives of many. However, the antics he engages into with his bat sidekick in the film tend to lend to a more comedic representation.
As it turns out, that representation couldn’t be further from the truth. In real life, Rasputin doesn’t really call humor to the brain, as he shouldn’t!
Art imitates life, however, in one particular and telling way. In the animated film, Rasputin falls through the ice when he meets his demise. As it turns out, historically, the real life Rasputin also met his end in the ice, having been buried in a river.
8 Oscar Buzz
Not all animated films are nominated for Academy Awards, although some are. These films need to be incredibly impactful as a few of them undoubtedly have been. As it turns out, Anastasia falls in this category, as the film was indeed nominated for Oscars in respective categories.
At the Oscars held on March 23rd of 1998, the film was nominated in two categories: Best music: Original Song, and Best Music: Original Music or Comedy Score. Of course they didn’t bring home the golden statue, but as they say, it’s an honor to be nominated!
However, they did win an Annie Award and a Blockbuster Entertainment Award in the categories of Best Animated film (Blockbuster) and Hank Azaria took home an Annie for his voice portrayal in the film.
7 Cinematic Royalty?
It has also been rumored over the years that the cast of voices almost included the cinematic gem himself: Peter O’Toole. The British artist's acting chops were made famous in such productions as Lawrence Of Arabia from 1962, The Lion In Winter and Venus. The Shakespearean actor is renowned for his conviction and dedication to the craft. He passed on at the age of 81 in 2013.
O'Toole inclusion would definitely have been interesting to say the least.
He was rumored to possibly have played Rasputin, but the role ultimately went to another gem in his own right, Christopher Lloyd. That’s right, Doctor Emmett Brown himself of Back To The Future Fame. Turns out the role of Rasputin was in good hands after all, now wasn’t it?
6 No, Thanks!
While Meg Ryan may be a talented actress and there is no doubt she has starred in numerous hits over the years, predominantly acting in films of the 80s and 90s, she's not really a singer. Her fame remains strong despite that, even as her appearances have slowly dwindled over the years. But who can forget her epic roles in When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless In Seattle and You’ve Got Mail?
As it turns out, she doesn’t really sing, and in a film like the animated Anastasia, singing was indeed part of the job description. But seeing as she couldn’t deliver, a professional singer was added to the role. Tony-nominated singer Liz Callaway was cast to sing all of Anastasia’s songs, as she sounded very similar to Meg Ryan's speaking portion of the film.
5 Like Father, Like Son
Speaking of music, what’s probably most interesting about the film’s production is that the family continuity in music production. The composer responsible for the score of the original live action film of the same name, and the composer of the animated film are actually father and son.
The films were 41 years apart, but the musical dedication to Anastasia's story remained in the Newman family.
Alfred Newman was a conductor and composer responsible for such film scores as The Mark Of Zorro and The Hunchback Of Notre Dame (1939). His son, David Newman is also a composer responsible for such film scores as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
What’s sad is that, when David was able to work on the score of the animated film, his father would never know about David's new score. Alfred passed on in 1970, without seeing the result of his son's work.
4 Pitted Against A Classic
To say that Disney was worried that another production company would have a hit animated film in theaters in 1997 would be quite an understatement.
In a bold move by Disney execs, they re-released The Little Mermaid, a known hit and a classic film in their repertoire, a week apart from Anastasia in order to compete with the film. They hoped to slow it down and divert some of the theater clientele to their own movie.
The move was definitely underhand and it did do a little bit of damage. At the end of the day, Anastasia was still successful despite this. How successful it would have been if Disney had chosen another time to release their older film, we’ll never know.
Quite the bullying move by Disney, even if their move proved futile.
3 I Know That Guy!
As it turns out, there were quite a few recognizable voices in the final edit of the film. Of the talented actors involved in the project, there may still be four you have not recognized!
Hank Azaria, a respected actor and voice actor played Bartock, Rasputin’s bat sidekick, and closest friend. Kelsey Grammer, know from his titular role in Frasier played Vladimir "Vlad" Vanya Voinitsky Vasilovich. John Cusack, of Say Anything and many other classics, played a con man named Dimitri.
And also in the voice cast, was none other than the beautiful and talented Kirsten Dunst, of Spider-Man fame. She played 8 year old Anya (Anastasia). She did not, however provide the singing voice. The singing portion of Anya’s 8 year old character was provided by Lacey Chabert.
2 Big Name Markets
In order to compete with Disney, a massive marketing campaign was launched for the release of Anastasia. The promotional team worked hand in hand with many big names in advertising and many big names in many different walks of life.
Included in the large scale campaign were Dole Foods, Shell Oil, Hershey, Burger King, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and the 1997 Figure Skating Championships.
It’s rather elementary: the more products that endorse your product, the more people will see it! The promotional team responsible for Anastasia knew full well that the quality for the product would reach their target demographic at faster speeds, ultimately bringing in a much needed audience for their film.
As it turns out, it paid off. After all, Burgers, chocolate and a holiday parade are pretty good places to market a film, especially an animated film at that.
1 Princess On Ice
So Disney weren't the only ones to have their characters dancing on ice. As it turns out, Anastasia also had a run from 1998 to 1999. The run was significant and sold decently, but in no way could match the numbers that Disney On Ice makes annually, that’s for sure.
But in the end, Anastasia was a film that gave Disney a run for its money for a while there, and that isn’t all that easy to accomplish when it comes to the animation giant.
The story of Anastasia keeps on giving, and who knows what’s in store for this rich character. Perhaps another film, or a remake of sorts? Who knows?
All we do know is that Anastasia sure deserves her spot at the top of animated princesses and certainly should never be forgotten.