The idea for the film originates from Fox's 1956 live-action film version of the same name. Executives at Fox gave Bluth and Goldman the choice of creating an animated adaptation of either the 1956 film or the original play by Marcelle Maurette.
During the storming of the Winter Palace by Bolshevik troops, the Romanov family members are killed (including Nicholas II). Anastasia runs back to get her music box with Marie in tow. Separated from the rest of the royal family, a servant boy rushes them out of the palace through a secret door. Anastasia drops her music box in the panic, and we last see it lying next to the boy as he is clubbed to the ground by soldiers. As the two royals are running across a frozen river, Rasputin attempts to catch Anastasia when the thin ice breaks under him and he drowns. They eventually reach a moving train, but only Marie is able to get on, as Anastasia falls and is knocked unconscious, forcing Marie to leave her behind.
Ten years later, the Romanov dynasty has come to an end and Russia is under Communist rule. Marie, now residing in Paris, has offered a monetary reward for anyone who can return her beloved granddaughter to her. Two Russian conmen living in Saint Petersburg: Dimitri (John Cusack), a conniving young man; and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer), a former servant of the Imperial Court, decide to find a young girl to pass off as Anastasia. Meanwhile, a young woman named Anya (Meg Ryan), who owns the "Together in Paris" necklace, has just left her orphanage and has decided to learn about her past, as she has suffered amnesia and has no recollection of the first eight years of her life. She then heads to Saint Petersburg, accompanied by "Pooka", a dog she just found. She soon encounters Dimitri and Vladimir, who are struck by her resemblance to the young Grand Duchess, and recruit her as their "fake" Anastasia. The two men teach Anya how to behave like Anastasia during the trip to Paris, where Anya and Dimitri realize a mutual attraction, and it is discovered that Dimitri possesses Anastasia's music box in his baggage.
Rasputin is revealed to be still alive, but trapped in limbo, unable to die because Anastasia had not been killed. His cowardly servant Bartok (Hank Azaria), an albino bat, unwittingly brings him his magical reliquary after his supposed "death" ten years ago, thus restoring his old powers. He summons a legion of demons to kill Anya and complete his revenge, resulting in two failed attempts on her life. Rasputin then realizes that the only way to kill Anya is to do it in person.
Anya, along with Dimitri and Vladimir, arrive in Paris, and Anya is unsure whether she can remember everything Dimitri and Vladimir have taught her. Marie is living with, Sophie (Bernadette Peters), her lady-in-waiting and also her first cousin. Sophie is in charge of interviewing each girl who claims to be Anastasia by making her answer a series of questions that only the true Grand Duchess herself would know. However, just as Anya and the men arrive in Paris, Sophie and Marie are (tediously) interviewing an imposter who is trying to pass herself off as Anastasia. Marie orders the woman to leave and vows that she can no longer endure seeing anymore fake Anastasias. When Anya, Dimitri and Vladimir arrive, Sophie interviews Anya as a favour to her old flame Vladimir, except that she is now asking very difficult questions. Anya plays her part well, but when Sophie asks how she escaped the palace, Vlad and Dimitri become nervous, since they did not teach Anya an answer to that question. To their mysterious fortune, Anya dimly recalls a servant boy opening a secret door... but she believes this memory to be nonsense, while Dimitri is shocked by what this signifies. He later tells Vladimir that he was indeed the servant boy in her memory, meaning that Anya truly is the real Anastasia; nonetheless, he is sad that this is true, because "princesses don't marry kitchen boys."
Sophie arranges for Anya to encounter Marie at the Russian ballet. After the ballet, Dimitri attempts to introduce Anya to Marie, but the empress refuses to listen to him. Even when Dimitri tells her that he used to work at the palace she is cynical. Dimitri insists that he has brought her the genuine Anastasia, and Marie retorts that she knows who he is. Anya overhears the whole argument and is horrified to hear Marie describe Dimitri as a conman from St Petersburg who was holding auditions to find a look-alike of Anastasia. She is even more appalled to hear that Dimitri was only using her to get the reward money. The empress has Dimitri removed from her sight and Anya is enraged and hurt that she was only part of his lies. Dimitri desperately tries to convince her that, although it started out as a con, he has changed his mind since finding out that she is the real Anastasia. Anya refuses to listen to him and leaves in anger.
When Marie abruptly leaves, Dimitri steals her car and drives Marie to the hotel where Anya is preparing to leave. In desperation, he convinces her to meet (reluctantly) with Anya by giving her the lost music box. Upon meeting Anya at first, Marie is adamant she is a fraud, but still a very talented actress, until the girl suddenly begins to remember personal childhood moments, including the music box. As they sing the lullaby, Marie finally realises the truth, and the two reunite at long last.
At a later meeting, Marie is moved to find that Dimitri was the servant boy who had saved them from death years ago, yet is refusing the promised reward money. He leaves, determined not to interfere with Anya's destiny, and her belief that he is still a heartless conman. Marie eventually tells Anya of Dimitri's actions at the inauguration ball, making her realize her error. When Pooka suddenly bounds for the garden maze, Anya runs after him and is trapped. Rasputin finally reveals himself to her and tries to kill her on the Alexander Bridge over an icy Seine. Dimitri returns to save Anya, and in the ensuing fight, Anya manages to destroy Rasputin's reliquary by crushing it under her foot, causing him to disintegrate into dust.
Dimitri and Anya reconcile and leave Paris, sending a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie. The film ends with Anya and Dimitri sailing away on a boat, now married, dancing and finally sharing a kiss, as they begin a new life together.
|Kirsten Dunst||Young Anastasia|
|Angela Lansbury||Dowager Empress Marie Fyodorovna|
Singing Voice Cast
|Liz Callaway||Anastasia (Anya)|
|Lacey Chabert||Young Anastasia|
Anastasia was nominated for two Academy Awards in the categories of "Best Music, Original Musical or Comedy Score" and "Best Music, Original Song" for "Journey to the Past". At the awards ceremony, "Journey to the Past" was performed by R&B singer Aaliyah, who recorded the pop single version of the song. This song was recorded into Spanish for the Spanish version of the film by Thalía, and it went on to be a hit across Central and South America. Another song which gained recognition is the ballad "Once Upon a December"; its pop single version was recorded and produced by Deana Carter. The song that plays with the credits at the end of the film is "At the Beginning" sung by Richard Marx and Donna Lewis.
Due to its success, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment created a direct-to-video spin-off film called Bartok the Magnificent (1999), featuring Rasputin's albino bat crony. It also starred Kelsey Grammer, who voiced Vladimir in Anastasia; in Bartok the Magnificent, he voiced Zozi the Bear.
Anastasia was Don Bluth's first successful film since Universal/Amblin's The Land Before Time and last after Titan A.E. failed. It was also the first for Fox after three previously-released animated features failed: FernGully: The Last Rainforest, Once Upon a Forest, and The Pagemaster.