Image Map

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Once Upon A Time In December...

Dear friends,

**WARNING!!! This post contains a review of the 1997 movie animation on Anastasia (the smallest daughter of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia) and also some trivia regarding it. It will be quite an extensive post and it will have loads of pictures and text so please grab yourself a cup of tea and Enjoy!**
Now I must admit since the very beginning that I loved this movie as a child and I had a hard time picking over what VHS to choose when I was small... I managed to get money for one VHS and I wanted to pick between Titanic and Anastasia (as they were my personal fav movies of the year 1997). I eventually picked up the Titanic (yes! I have the VHS still!) as at that age (I was 11 years old) I was trying to act more and more responsible and grown up like... and picking an animation would have ruined my reputation... Plus Leonardo Di Caprio was real and Dimitri was not!
Storyline: The last surviving child of the Russian Royal Family hooks up with two con men to reunite with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress, while the undead Rasputin seeks her death. 
Weirdly enough it is not done by Disney but by 20th Century Fox, even though the style of the story is so very much Disney like - that is why a lot of people classify it as such. I will take a brave step and do a short review of this movie by minute. I have rewatched this delightful movie last week, when my fiance was away on business trip, as I wanted to do a review for the month of December. You will ask "Why December?" - Dear me! Is it not obvious ?! (at least for the ones who watched this before and remember some on the songs in the soundtrack) - Well I wanted this done in this month as I always put together the story with December and Christmas mood alike (hey! most of the animation happens during winter! + the main song of the movie is called "Once Upon A December"). So here I am! Sharing with you my thoughts on this lovely animation both for children and adults.

Directed by 

Don Bluth
Gary Goldman

Writing Credits  

Susan Gauthier ... (screenplay) &
Bruce Graham ... (screenplay) &
Bob Tzudiker ... (screenplay) &
Noni White ... (screenplay)

Eric Tuchman ... (animation adaptation)

Meg Ryan ...
Anastasia (voice)
John Cusack ...
Dimitri (voice)
Kelsey Grammer ...
Vladimir (voice)
Christopher Lloyd ...
Rasputin (voice)
Hank Azaria ...
Bartok (voice)
Bernadette Peters ...
Sophie (voice)
Kirsten Dunst ...
Young Anastasia (voice)
Angela Lansbury ...
o:3o entrance of The Dowager -1916 - Alexander Tsar of The Imperial Russia - 300 aniversary of the family rule
1:30 entrance of Anastasia (to be more specific: Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia) - in the animation she is aged 8 but if we would check historical facts at that time she would have to be 15 years old at least
1:49 entrance of Dimitri (the kitchen boy and Ania's and The Dowager Empress Marie's future saviour)
1:48 The Special gift for the separation to be easier - The Dowager Empress Marie gives her beloved grandchild a music box that opens with a key (with the engraving "Together In Paris")
2:10 The Lullaby of the music box is the theme song of the movie - Once upon a December
3:05 The Dark Shadow falls on The Romanov family: Rasputin comes to the palace. Now Rasputin is indeed a person who really existed and had very much influence in the Romanov's life (there are even fragments of letters and diaries of the 4 Grand Duchess in which you can see and feel their true attachment to this "holy man"). Unfortunately his influence inflicted much pain and anger to the common Russian folk and instigated them more into the Revolution. Now I must admit that he must have been quite a remarcable person and I find it very intriguing the fact that he was so hard to kill - people tried to poison him (in huge amounts) yet he stepped out living, they tried to shot him and still he was living... being dropped into the cold icy river did not induce hypothermia.... but the water DID kill him in the end. He drowned!
3:33 The curse of The Romanov line - in the animation Rasputin puts a curse upon The Romanov family and sells his soul to the devil in order to destroy them (though we never know the motives, why Rasputin would want them dead? What did they do to him so he would be so full of vengeance?!). Sadly enough for him he gets killed while trying to kill Anastasia... while running on the ice in front of the palace Rasputin trips and he gets trapped under the ice - Ania and The Dowager Empress Marie escape his hands.
4:25 The start of the revolution - people brake into the palace and we see no more of Ania's family, we just find out later on that Ania is the only Romanov left alive
4:53 Dimitri is saving Anastasia and The Dowager by sliding the panes of the wall - he gets hit and remains unconscious yet he has the music box which Ania was trying to get while they were forced out of the palace.
5:55 their hands slip and Anastasia is swallowed by the crowd - while at the train station The Dowager manages to get into a moving train and tries to catch Ania and pull her as well but her hand slips and Ania slips and hits her head on the rail. People hold The Dowager not to jump and she loses Ania this way - all this part (actually the whole movie starting their flight from the palace is 100% historically inaccurate! but hey! this is a children movie ment to be seen on Christmas and have a very happy end! - History clearly states (yes! with proof!) that the family was moved into 2 locations before being all assasined by the Reds. None of the Romanov family survived: Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, Alexandra Feodorovna (his wife) and their 5 children ( Alexei - the smallest and the single boy, Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia) were all killed on 17 iulie 1918 at Ekaterinburg in Rusia. It is true that there were several claims of Anastasia being still alive (and on this the story of the animation is based) but none of them were proved right until this day - even DNA testing was involved...
6:28 into over and we take on todays Saint Petersburg 10 years later - in the animation we are still assuming Ania would be around 18 years old (much more interesting than presenting the true facts, of Ania being over 25 years old - come on! at that time at 25 years you would be considered as old and passed your marrying age! totally unacceptable for a court and to be showed to the large public!)
6:56 There is a rumour in St Petersburg - one hell of a song! the first moment I heard it I felt the need to jump off the chair and dance with the people in the square. We can see what 10 years has done to the country and how people are struggling day by day to make a living (e.g. also by selling other peoples goods - dead people. Which makes me think of A Christmas Carol and The Ghost Of Christmas Future when people were selling Scrooge's clothes... quite chilly idea... so let us get back to the story.
8:40 we see the music box that Dimitri found when Ania left the palace
9:03 - 9:38 awesome flashmob in St Petersburg square - you need to check at least this out if not the whole movie! It is just beautiful!
10:00 Adult Ania adorable since the first second - very much like a tom-boy as history also portrait her (so I am glad at least her character gets transmitted in the series + the likeness in her facial expression and her pure blue eyes, as the real Anastasia used to have).
11:03 choices: "ania the orphan" vs family - she leaves the orphanage with the clear instructions to go to the fishermans village and start working there but at the same time she feels deep down inside that someone out there loves her, somewhere out there she has a family + she still has the key to the music box with "Together In Paris"
11:32 "send me a sign, a hint, anything!" - Ania is shouting out (to God) for help as she cannot make up her mind where she should go and what she must do next.
11:38 the sign appears: Pooka :) which is the most adorable tiny dog you ever seen! FYI Pooka - as far as I know - means nothing in Russian language but I did found out from some resources that it would mean a magical creature that is able to shift their appearance. (and that, my friends, is a nice idea!)
12:01 "oh great! a dog wants me to go to St Petersburg" - at first Ania makes fun of the coincidences but sees in fact this is not a coincidence but rather a sign. She aknowledges and we hear the second most celebrated song of this animation.
12:20 "Heart don't fail me now... life is full of choices, no one ever mentions fear..."(Journey to the past) - very beautiful scene in the forest, in their trip (Ania's and Pooka's)
14:35-14:50 heartbreaking... we see ania first sight on St Petersburg (historically incorrect as at that time the city took the name of Leningrad ;) just small FYI)
15:28 epic Anastasia with very young like voice...(not smoking at all!) - there were a lot of girls trying out in front of Vlad and Dimitri and we get to see a few ;)))
16:00 Dimitri and Ania bump into eachother for the first time but they do not even look at eachother
16:25 Ania breaks into the palace for the first time after 10 years. She comes searching for Dimitri as she learned from a woman that he will be able to help her get to Paris.
17:12 glimpse of Ania and her father dancing in a plate that Ania finds at the palace, covered by webs and dust...
17:31 "this place is like a memory from a dream" - Ania starts relating to the palace and the ballroom
17:33 Once upon a December... IMHO the most beautiful song of this movie and not a December passes by in my life without listening to it. It just fits the mood :) Especially with a lot of snow outside, please! and watching this adorable movie :)
18:17 paintings come alive and start dancing in the ballroom with Ania
18:49 her family appears :)
19:02 the most beautiful transformation... her back into a princess (from the ragged clothes to a very princess like dress - just twirl and there you go! Ania gets back to being Anastasia!)
19:25 dance with her father - kiss from her father - bow...
19:52 everything disappears as Dimitri sees Ania and shouts at her...
20:50 "why are you circling me? were you a vulture in another life?!" - Dimitri realises the resemblance between her and the Grand Duchess
22:02 the 3rd ticket is for The Grand Duchess Anastasia - Vlad and Dimitri are presenting Ania the opportunity of joining them to Paris to see The Dowager but Ania does not believe she is the princess.
23:10 the name Anastasia means "she will rise again" - states Vlad
23:30 "I have it all under control - walk a bit slower..."
23:45 "3...2...1... right from the palm of our hands!"
24:21 Ania's firm handshake with Dimitri, settling the deal :) quite adorable how Dimitri thinks Ania frail yet she is a strong willed young lass!
24:28 "May I present yourself the Grand Duchess of Anastasia"- Dimitri shouts in the ballroom of the deserted palace and we shift the image to Bartok, Rasputin's pet, and a green recipient/lantern-thing that holds the curse and the power of Rasputin to destroy the Romanovs.
25:30 Bartok begings his trip to limbo, where Rasputin in stuck for 10 years as Ania is still alive.
26:oo Rasputin is back! we see him "in all his glory"
26:20 Rasputins eye falling...
26:36 lips falling...
27:07 Rasputin falling apart and Bartok tries to fix him ;))) I cannot help laughing on the limbo scenes, they are hilarious and not at all frightening
27:59 Rasputin sings... falling to bits... and with weird little bugs... (In the dark of the night)
29:48-30:05 really nice tone of the music!!!
31:10 Vlad keeping score Ania vs Dimitri is hilarious ;)) You can clearly see who is winning! Ania is adorably witty and Dimitri falls everytime!
33:10 Ania hitting Dimitri in the nose and breaking it (when she wakes up)
33:56 "What was that? I dunno but there goes the dining cart!" - the evil minions of Rasputin try to destroy Ania in the train to Paris
36:05 Ania and Dimitri save the day together and manage to jump off the train
37:15 "stress - it's a killer sir!" said Bartok
39:00 Vlad explains Sophie as a pastry :) the most delightful thing you could hear, tell you the truth!
40:00-40:38 Vlad talks to Ania - "engaging and fiery young woman" - he was a member of the imperial court. As Ania is not sure on herself on times, Vlad guides her on her way to transforming from Ania to Anastasia.
40:58 "Gentleman start you teaching!"
40:59-43:22 If I can learn to do it...(41:44 Dimitri kisses Anias hand - 42:43 "And I recall his yellow cat" - Ania's memories as Anastasia start coming back one by one as Vlad and Dimitri tell her more about her family)
43:32 "you bought me a tent" (Dimitri buys Ania a huge dress and she makes fun of him ;)) adorable, if you ask me!)
43:55 Ania makes her appearence in her new blue dress - how her hair grows at least 10 inches it beats me! I need a dress like that if it makes my hair grow faster :)))
44:18 Ania tends to lead in the dance and Vlad is telling her not to and they begin dancing - Dimitri and Ania start to bond...
45:27 "I never should have let them dance"
45:59 the almost kiss... Pooka barks and Dimitri stops and leaves the dance and the deck of the ship.
46:35 Pooka finds the "jewelry box" and Ania starts remembering...
47:51 the green smoke comes in the cabin... everyone is sound asleep...
48:05 Ania starts her beautiful dream of her brother and 3 sisters and her father calling out for her for a swim
48:40 Pooka tries to wake up and warn Dimitri
49:08 Ania is sleepwalking and already on the deck - there is a storm outside and she is alone on the deck
50:09 Rasputin appears in her dream
50:15 Dimitri saves her from jumping in the troubled sea and they end up hugging and Ania crying
51:12 "I will have to kill her in person!" - Rasputin (after 3 failed attempts of killing Ania) realises he must reach the surface again and kill Ania with his own hands
51:56 Paris <3 we see this lovely place for the first time
52:15 we again see The Dowager Countess and Sophie seeing women/girls who try to look like/sound like Anastasia
52:53 The Dowager announces that she will see noone else! as her heart cannot take the pain anymore
53:20 Vladimir and Sophie meet again :D
53:56 Vlad shows Ania off to Sophie and she starts her rownof questions for several minutes
54:30 How did you escape from the siege of the palace? - Sophie
54:50 "he opened the wall"! and Dimitri realises that SHE is THE ONE!
55:58 She is the princess! (Dimitri talks to Vlad)
56:35 Sophie - Paris has the key to your heart! - adorable up-beat song where we see Ania's second transformation (shopping in Paris always does the trick!)
can can section is just adorable :)
and Dimitri realises what he must do - he must let her go
painting like background on the scenes (very Vincent Van Gogh - Starry Night like!) + you get to see one of Rodin's most famous sculptures (excuse me for being picky but I still believe he is the greatest sculptor of all time!)
59:30 Dimitri confesses that Ania is the real princess to Vlad
59:59 "princesses dont marry kitchen boys!" - Dimitri knows that he cannot be with Ania
1:00:30 adorable closeup on Ania at the Opera in Paris and Dimitri checking her out
1:01:05 The Ballet is "Cinderella"
akward scene before they try out to see The Dowager - second kiss fail ;)))
1:03:03 even though he is refused he breaks in to see The Dowager
1:03:45 Ania hears about Dimitri holding out auditions in order to get an Ania to fit the story
1:04:09 "it was all a lie? you used me? in order to get her money?" - Ania fights with Dimitri (and eventually slaps him and runs away from him)
1:05:00 Dimitri steals the car of The Dowager in order to make her listen to Ania
1:05:35 "You HAVE to talk to her!"
1:06:03 "you will stop at nothing, will you? / I am probably as stubborn as you are" - adorable fight between The Dowager and Dimitri, as he shows her the music box and she agrees to go up and see Ania
1:06:23 Ania meets The Dowager
1:05:50 "I just wanna know who I am!..." - Ania tells The Dowager that all she wants is to remember who she is and have her own family
1:07:10 "peppermint?! I spilled a bottle and the carpet soaked... and it forever smelt of you!"
Ania starts remembering and The Dowager begins to realise that Ania is indeed Anastasia
1:07:50 The Dowager sees her necklace and fits the music box
1:08:16 Ania starts humming the song even before the box opens - box opens - they start singing together
1:08:48 "Oh! Anastasia! My own Anastasia!" - Anastasia and The Dowager hug
1:09:53 "forget the girl and get a life" Bartok - "I'll get a life. Hers!" Rasputin
1:10:20 The Dowager and Anastasia share stories together - the laughter of her father and the beauty of her mother, "The Empress of whole Russia": Anastasia has them both and she will be shown to the world as what she truly is :)
1:11:19 Dimitri comes for the 10 million rubles - Dimitri accepts her gratitude but not her money
The Dowager realises he is the boy who saved them... twice. She asks why the change of mind
Dimitri states it is rather a change of heart
1:12:40 Dimitri bows to Ania (Her Highness) and leaves
1:13:08 Vlad and Pooka are preparing for the party
Dimitri says goodbye to Vlad and leaves for St Petersburg
1:13:43 Dimitri has a sweet goodbye with Pooka as well <3 (you can see they both warmed up to eachother and Dimitri still calls him "mut" but in a sweet loving way)
1:14:00 Ania has a conversation with her Grandma before entering the party
1:14:55 "My darling, he didn't take the money!"
1:15:15 "Whatever you choose, we will always have eachother!"
1:15:20 Ania is left alone with her thoughts
1:15:50 Pooka runs off into the labirint
1:16:06 Dimitri is at the station and finds the rose from Sophie and remembers Ania
1:16:33 Ania finds Pooka but Rasputin keeps saying her name until they meet eachother
1:17:08 Ania remembers the curse and the night when she lost her conscience
1:17:53 "I am not afraid of you" - Ania
1:18:08 Dimitri comes to the rescue of Ania :) and tries saving her from falling from the bridge
1:19:20 Ania's fight with Rasputin - Pooka manages to get the green lantern - Ania breaks it along with the curse
1:20:12 Rasputin is consumed by the green powers in the lantern
1:20:30 Ania protects Dimitri from the Green light with her body and at the end thinks him dead
1:21:21 Dimitri wakes up - near kiss again and Pooka brings the crown...
1:21:48 Dear Grandmama...(the letter) + the elopement
1:22:12 It's a perfect ending. (Sophie) No! It's a perfect beginning! (The Dowager)
1:22:35 The Kiss :D Ania and Dimitri sailing on the boat to the unknown
1:23:01 Bartok meets his pair ;))
And now a bit of IMDB Trivia, just for you ;)
  • The Parisian bridge on which the confrontation between Rasputin, Dimitri, and Anastasia occurs is the Alexander III bridge, named after the real Anastasia Romanov's grandfather on the occasion of his state visit to France in the 1870s.
  • The drawing the Empress holds when she and Anya are reminiscing (the same one we see little Anastasia give her at the beginning of the movie) is a picture the real Anastasia had drawn for her father in 1914.
  • The portrait in the ballroom of the whole family includes a spaniel. The spaniel existed. The spaniel, named Joy, belonged to Anastasia's brother, Alexei, and was found alive at the house where the family was killed. Anastasia's own dog, Jimmy, did not survive.
  • The real Anastasia once wore a dress almost exactly like the one Anya wears in the last scenes of the movie. This same dress was seen in Anastasia (1956).
  • When Anya returns to the palace in St. Petersburg and is in the ballroom you can see the painting of the coronation of Alexandra and Nicholas on the left hand side being the first picture, which is a real painting.
  • The music box in this movie actually existed. It was given to the real Anastasia by the real Marie Feoderovna for her thirteenth birthday, but was silver with a ballerina on top.
  • The real Anastasia was indeed born at the Peterhof Palace, which was called "The Farm" by her family. It was designed in imitation of the Palace of Versailles, in France.
  • In real life, Olga really did say that Anastasia's drawing looked like a pig riding a donkey! This was stated by Anastasia in a letter to her father, and the image used in the movie is an actual reproduction of the original picture. 
  • Just as was suggested in this movie, the real-life Anastasia Romanov loved playing practical jokes. This made her quite notorious among her family and the palace staff.
  • As is the case with many 20th Century Fox Films, the film cans for the advance screening prints and show prints had a code name. Anastasia was "The Train". There is a climactic train wreck in the film.
  • When Meg Ryan was offered the role of Anya, she could not decide if she wanted to accept it or not. Upon hearing of Ryan's indecision, Fox took an audio clip of Ryan talking in Sleepless in Seattle (1993) and created a short animated sequence of Anya speaking the lines. They sent the clip to Ryan, and she was so impressed that she changed her mind and accepted the role.
  • Composer David Newman's father Alfred Newman wrote the score for 1956's Anastasia.
  • The musical number "Paris Holds the Key (To Your Heart)" includes cameos by various historical characters from the time including Maurice Chevalier, Sigmund Freud, Charles A. Lindbergh, Josephine Baker, Claude Monet, Isadora Duncan, Auguste Rodin, and Gertrude Stein.
  • The ballet that the characters go to see is "Cinderella".
  • Liz Callaway was called at the last minute by Flaherty and Ahrens to substitute for a singer who couldn't make the recording session of the temp tracks for Fox. Her tracks of the songs were liked so much they led to her subsequent casting as the singing voice of Anastasia.
  • This was the first feature for 20th Century Fox's animation division.
  • Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Pryce, and Tim Curry were considered to voice Rasputin.
  • In real life, Gregori Efimovich a.k.a. Rasputin was a very controversial figure who, in fact, was the Romanov's advisor and Tsarina Alexandra's most trusted confidant. Rumor has it that Rasputin told the Tsarina he was about to be assassinated and that if one of her relatives killed him, all the Romanov family would die within a year. While of course these facts were too dark to be included in the movie, there is a reference: during the song "A Rumor in St. Petersburg", an old woman tells Dimitri to buy "Count Yussupov's pajamas", while offering a pair of ragged clothes. Yussupov, who actually was a prince, really existed, was indeed related to Alexandra Romanov and was the one who killed the real Rasputin, along with a group of noblemen.
  • The character of Dimitri was based on a European prince who vouched for Anna Anderson's identity as Anastasia. The prince had only met Anastasia once and during her childhood, though, so he was not considered a very credible source.
  • During the song "Learn to Do It," the list of family relatives states that there was an Uncle Vanya. 'Uncle Vanya' is a real play by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov.
  • Glenn Walker Harris Jr. voices the younger version of John Cusack's character in this film. In _Say Anything (1989)_, he portrays Cusack's nephew.
  • Bernadette Peters was not pleased with the design for her character. According to Gary Goldman, Peters was very physically fit at the time of production and was disappointed that Sophie was drawn so heavyset.
**I did this post out of love for this movie and I did not get payed for it. I grew up with Anastasia's story and drawing her :) I even won a prize when I was a wee lass for the drawing of her in the lovely dress she had at the Opera. She also made me more interested in Russia and history and their literature. Hope you enjoyed this!**

Yours truly,
The Anastasia Fan Since She Was A Wee Lass - The LadyBug :)