For some reason, Anastasia has this weird reputation of being mistaken for a Disney movie, but it’s not.
Anastasia was actually done by Fox Animation Studios, and was distributed by 20th Century Fox. So why is Anastasia always mistaken for Disney? Well, there are quite a few reasons, actually!
First of all, Anastasia is a Princess movie. Thematically, it’s set up a lot like the Disney Princess movies: Anastasia wants something (belonging), Anastasia meets a cool guy on her quest to find that thing, and Anastasia accomplishes her goal (finding a place where she belongs/finding her home) and gets the guy as well.
She also has a villain to deal with – Rasputin, who’s a total jerk and ups the ante on creepiness the way that villains like Jafar and Doctor Facilier have in Disney’s past. (We’re going to go more into specifics about that later, when we talk music.)
Secondly: at a glance, the animation styles are similar. Given that its directors (Don Bluth and Gary Goldman) were former Disney animators, this isn’t too surprising. In particular, Anastasia and Ariel look very similar to me design-wise.
However, they’re not exactly the same. In movies like The Little Mermaid, Disney tends to exaggerate features (like Ariel’s big eyes and big lips), while Anastasia tries to stay on the more realistic size and downsizes features. Anastasia (and the rest of the cast) have smaller eyes, smaller mouths, and in general look more like people you would see in real life. I mean:
You can see the difference in their expressions, personalities, how they hold themselves…so while some details are similar, at a second glance it’s easier to tell how they stand apart.
Anastasia shares a lot of other traits with Disney movies, such as….
A lot of the older Disney movies (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella) opened with a sort of prologue, where the narrator would tell a story and lead the viewer up to the present day. Anastasia did something very similar by having her grandmother narrate in the beginning. (Fun fact: the score playing during this scene is actually called Prologue, and since the actual opening I had posted seems to have disappeared, I’ll post the score for you guys to enjoy instead.)
(Another fun thing in the opening scene: Rasputin’s entrance is reminiscent of Maleficent: all the drama, all the magic, all the creepiness. Who did it better, guys?)
Opening scenery shots:
There’s a shot in Rumor in St. Petersburg that’s very reminiscent of Bells of Notre Dame from Hunchback of Notre Dame:
Not exact, but pretty similar. And yet again, some animation similarities appear in how the buildings are rendered.
The father/daughter relationship:
Disney has a thing about father/daughter relationships: Ariel/Triton, Belle/Maurice, Jasmine/The Sultan… When a parent survives, it’s usually the father, and even if he doesn’t, he’s usually shown in the narrative before his death (ex: Cinderella, Frozen). And much like the Disney girls, Anastasia’s father/her relationship him with is emphasized early on. While the main family relationship we deal with is Anastasia and her grandmother, her father is shown pretty prominently.
We get them dancing at the beginning:
And we get a sad echo when Anya, still grasping at memories of the past, sees her father in he fantasy sequence during Once Upon a December:
Yes, it’s not the main focus, but it’s a pretty important one. We don’t see that emphasis with Anastasia and her mom.
The animal sidekick:
Because apparently princesses can’t have real flesh and blood friends, Anya has an animal sidekick like most of the Disney princesses. Hers is the absolutely adorable Pooka.
And much like Jafar, Rasputin has a sidekick in his weird albino bat, Bartok.
This is a big one, guys. Some of the music in Anastasia very clearly follows tropes that Disney’s music movie scheme often focuses on. Three in particular stand out: the “I Want” song, the “Villain” song, and the “Love Song.” I’ll go through them in order and explain why.
Journey to the Past = “I Want Song”
Journey to the Past is Anya’s “I Want” song. What does Anya want? She wants to belong, and find the family that she knows has always been out there. And just like most Disney “I Want” songs, Journey to the Past spells out her intentions around the second half:
Somewhere down this road, I know someone’s waiting
Years of dreams just can’t be wrong
Arms will open wide, I’ll be safe and wanted
Finally home where I belong
This is shown through the family Anya sees on her journey to St. Petersburg. The longing in her face is painful to see, but you can also see her resolve strengthen. That’s what she wants, and she’s determined to keep going and find it, no matter how wary she feels stepping off-course.
And of course, just like other Disney characters do, Anya gets what she wants in the end: her family, a sense of belonging, and something she didn’t expect to find – love. It’s pretty cool how that works out for characters, isn’t it?
In the Dark of the Night = “Villain Song”
In the Dark of the Night is one of those songs that doesn’t quite fit into Disney standards, because even though Disney has some pretty dark villains, Rasputin surpasses them all. There’s a whole section of the movie where the narration talks about how he GAVE UP HIS SOUL so he could murder the Romanovs, and you can see his flesh stripped away as he’s left a skeleton. That’s pretty dark. Even Facilier didn’t go quite that far.
There are some similarities to Disney villains of the past though. Like Ursula and Yzma, Rasputin gives us his backstory via song in the second verse:
I was once the most mystical man in all Russia
When the royals betrayed me, they made a mistake
My curse made each of them pay
But one little girl got away
Little Anya, beware, Rasputin’s awake!
Like Facilier, Rasputin has some “friends on the other side” to help him out, which leads into the next scene, when they attack the train that Anya, Dimitri and Vladimir are on.
And like Scar, Rasputin is really freaking dramatic.
I mean come on, look at this montage, this is ridiculously dramatic. Everything Rasputin does is ridiculously dramatic. As creepy as he is, it’s hard to take him seriously at times because of the sheer drama that surrounds him. (Plus, he failtastically dies TWICE, which is pretty bad.)
Learn to Do It (Waltz Reprise) = “Love Song”
I talked about this back when Mic and I wrote about Animated Love songs, so I won’t spend too much time dwelling on this, but I want to point out that this is another one of those Disney touches that slides into the movie. I mean, we have Vlad, who’s kind of our Timon stand-in, singing about these two crazy kids in love, and him realizing that 1) this was never something he’d planned for, thus, 2) it’s completely going to change their group dynamic.
Unlike Timon, who takes a while to warm up to Nala, we can see that Vlad’s already warmed up to Anya based on this one great line:
She’s radiant, and confident, and born to take this chance
We know that Dimitri is head over heels into his “mark” based on how he looks at her, but now we can see Vlad’s affection shining through. It’s not something we see often in movies, and it’s kind of nice to see Vladimir care for Anya in a platonic way – like a father in law, perhaps. 😉
We’re more in Disney territory toward the end:
I taught her well, I planned it all, I just forgot…romance!
Vlad, how could you do this?
How will we get through this?
I never should have let them dance
Poor Vlad; he’s got some woes here. And like Timon, he’s not entirely happy about this change in course.
Another important thing in this scene is the dance. We get this a lot in Disney movies, where characters share a dance, and it shows the emotional growth between the two characters. Here, we see stubborn Anya allowing Dimitri to lead her. The fact that she trusts him enough to lead shows that she’s starting to care for him, and open up to him. Similarly, we see Dimitri being less reserve around Anya now. It’s really sweet all around.
While Anastasia is not Disney, its creators were likely influenced by their time working at Disney. However, Anastasia stands on its own as a firmly non-Disney film. So next time someone in your life says Anastasia is Disney, just remember what Anastasia herself says:
Do you think Anastasia is similar to Disney’s other films? Who had a better dramatic entry: Maleficent or Rasputin? What do you guys love most about Anastasia? Let us know in the comments!