It’s about time Don Bluth’s animated classics started finding their way to Blu-ray. Bluth was a talented animator and director who worked for Disney for a number of years. It’s easy to spot his influence in the early years of Disney animation and see how his distinct style of animation carried over to his own production company. Just take a look at 'The Sword in the Stone' and watch Madam Mim. Now stick in 'Anastasia' and watch the old woman who runs the orphanage. My wife and I turned to each other and both said "Hey, that’s Madam Mim," in tandem.
After Bluth's last involvement with Disney ended – which happened to be 'Fox and the Hound,' You could easily see an animation transition from Disney. Bluth has a more realistic, darker style of animation, and once he left, Disney animation seemed to take on a more colorful smoothness. It's okay though, because Bluth continued making great animated features.
'Anastasia' came out in 1997, and actually grossed over a $130 million. A nice haul for any animated feature. Big name stars were pegged for some of the lead voice acting roles. John Cusack as Dimitri and Meg Ryan as Anastasia. Still, the brains behind the operation were Bluth and his co-directing partner Gary Goldman. What they ended up creating is an experience that can only be described as watching an animated Broadway play. At least that’s how I always think of 'Anastasia.'
In the early 1900s the Romanov family rules over Russia. They're a good bunch of loving leaders, but the evil Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) doesn’t think too favorably of them. He curses them, that they'll all die. Soon uprisings in Russia begin to take place and there's a siege on the palace. Young Anastasia is separated from her grandmother (Angela Lansbury), her family is killed. No one knows where Anastasia went or if she even survived. Her grandmother fled to France. Years later she puts up a reward for anyone who can reunite her with her estranged granddaughter.
Anastasia has grown up in an orphanage. She was so young at the time that she's forgotten her past, and believes her name is Anya. She meets a handsome young man named Dimitri, who just so happens to be looking for a girl who could possibly be the lost princess so he can collect the reward.
What I like about 'Anastasia' and Bluth's movies overall is that he’s not afraid to explore the darker side of the story. He's not afraid to show what some may deem frightening imagery. While Rasputin lives out his afterlife in limbo, his body starts falling apart and decomposing. As his eye grotesquely pops out of its socket it's easy to see that some younger kids may find that a bit too scary.
The songs in 'Anastasia' rival any of the more popular songs in any of Disney's classics, only here they sound like Broadway renditions. Full of pomp and bravado. This is a fun, memorable movie. 'Anastasia' marks one of the highlights of Don Bluth's illustrious animation career.
It's pretty obvious that Fox didn't give ‘Anastasia’ the painstaking transfer that usually accompanies Disney's older animated features, but for the most part they did a fabulous job. We’ll get into the video's drawbacks in a minute, but for now let's talk about why 'Anastasia's 1080p presentation is something that will keep you coming back for more.
The detail in the lines here is phenomenal. I think I’ve only ever seen 'Anastasia' on VHS so obviously this is about a thousand steps up from that (give or take). While Bluth's animation and color palette tend towards the darker side of the spectrum, there's still plenty of color here to ogle at. The earthy tones of downtown St. Petersburg during the industrial revolution contrast quite nicely with the white snowcapped wilderness that the characters travel through to get to Paris. Bluth's animation has always seemed to have a strange ebb and flow to it, so faces and facial features, at times, seem to slide around making faces look different from once before. My wife kept commenting that there were quite a few times that Anastasia looked rather manly. This seems even more pronounced in high definition, but it is the nature of Bluth's more realistically rigid animation.
Banding can be made out during quite a bit of the film, but it almost seems to be a byproduct of the impressionist backgrounds used for skies. During the boat ride the characters take, the pinkish sky behind them has noticeable banding rings. Also during the bridge scene at the end. The CG used in the movie also looks rather dated, and does cause for some aliasing issues. The car Dimitri drives in through Paris is CG, and the grill sports aliasing lines as he walks past it. Other CG scenes, like the flying horse at the end, have their flaws enhanced by the high-def image. Other notable missteps include some scenes with color timing issues. This is noticeable during the train scene when all the characters are in the same train car. Different camera angles have noticeably different color shades. Also, during this scene and a few others, random flecks and white source noise pops up.
This may seem like quite a few things to be bothered about, but in all seriousness, they're small blips on an otherwise great looking transfer. Make no mistake though, overall, 'Anastasia' looks great on Blu-ray.
Fox has decided that 'Anastasia' is worthy of a lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix, which is very good news. You'll notice right off that the power of the songs in this mix really suck you into the soundfield. The tunes are belted out and are clearly audible through the front and center channels. The surrounds pipe up during the song and dance number where the entire downtown square bursts out singing. Surrounds are usually alive with all type of ambient noise, and really draw you in during the more intense scenes like the train crash or the climatic battle at the end.
Dialogue is well produced, coming through clean and clear. Directionality works well as sound effects like Bartok's wings or the moaning of tiny winged daemons dance around the front of the soundstage. LFE is a constant addition to the already stellar sounding soundtrack. It rumbles to life when the train barrels uncontrollably down the tracks, or when the giant winged horse tries to stomp the life out of Dimitri. Just a great sounding audio presentation all around.
It's wonderful to see the beautiful animation of Don Bluth finally getting the high-def treatment. 'Anastasia' is one of his classic pieces, and I welcome it to Blu-ray. The video, barring a few minor setbacks, is something to behold, while the audio is simply fantastic to listen to. There are actually quite a few extras for Bluth fans such as myself to wade through and glean more knowledge and respect for the man and his craft. 'Anastasia' comes strongly recommended.