Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Disney does Communism

Ok, false. Don Bluth does communism. But it's almost Disney. People pretend that it's Disney a lot.

For those of you who aren't scholars of nineties animation ( or don't watch Nostalgia Chick obsessively,) I'm talking about Anastasia, a wonderful animated film. It is wonderful both in the sense that it's weird and hilarious, but also that it's really well done and touching at spots.

The concept of the setting is really interesting, and it makes me wonder--why does Disney and Bluth/Fox choose to take on these historical events that are not kid friendly, and make them into kids movies?

Pochahontas, for instance. The Europeans invading America was in no way something you want to portray to little kids--the real story of Pochahontas is even less kid friendly than say, the story of the pilgrims in New England. Everything was very violent, very nasty, and very unpleasant.

 Same with the Bolshevik Revolution. In kids movies, there has to be a good guy and a bad guy. In the Bolshevik Revolution, there was no good guy or bad guy, it totally depends on who you ask. Now, obviously, in America, we see the communists as bad guys, because of that whole Cold War thing that was the twentieth century. Therefore, portraying the revolutionaries as the good guys in a kids movie about the Russian revolution is out. However, the Romanov's were in no way the good guys either--just like Marie Antoinette wasn't the good guy in the French revolution.

In any case, they made the decision to portray the Romanov's as the good guys in this movie, mostly because they've got the princess, and princesses sell. The movie opens up with a nice little bit about how happy and luxurious it used to be, before all those silly poor people were starving to death in the snow and had to rebel...
The historically accurate shot to have after this would have been some children dead from malnutrition and hypothermia
And, I guess, to keep it more neutral and kid friendly, they didn't talk much about the communist party either. It is portrayed in a negative light, with images of the beautiful city of St. Petersburg full of unhappy people and pollution, and one of the main characters saying "That's what I hate about this government; everything's in red!" but it never says that the communists were responsible for all the Romanovs getting killed. 

Their solution is to sort of synthesis of all evil or communist things, or anything that motivated the Bolshevik revolution, into one superhuman villain. He's sort of a mixture of Faustus, the real Rasputin, and American views of Communists, all-in-one.

I believe it. 
Obviously the historical inaccuracy of this is off the wall. IRL, Rasputin was a crazy enough character--he was a healer and a monk, (it is mentioned that he used to be a man of god in the movie, before he went insane,) and was a close friend of the Romanovs because he fixed up their sons hemophilia. When they tried to kill him, he would not die, leading to his portrayal in this movie as a perpetual near-corpse that never actually dies, even though he should. (source)Cute, right? Hyperbolic interpretation for kids is fun!

Not cute. This movie is like weird propaganda for the Romanov family.  Just like they were actually pretty terrible to their subjects that rebelled against them and killed them, they were pretty terrible to Rasputin too, and killed him for a kind of arbitrary reason after he saved their sons life who knows how many times and became one of the Tsar's best buddies. You can spin a story any way you want, but really, the Romanovs were wrong in this situation. 

It's very strange that they made the Romanovs seem like such good guys in this movie, even though that is almost the opposite of historical truth. Obviously America is anti-communist, but does that make all of our media immediately pro-imperialism? Kids grow up--I grew up--with all this input that princesses, in any context, were good, and it was all fun and games to be royalty. Sure, there were evil step mothers, but they were pretty easy to deal with. Again, spinning this story in the other direction and having some romance between some revolutionaries is out of the question, since if Don Bluth did that HUAC would probably be reborn and they'd eat him right up, but when there's no good guy...why would you make a happy Disney style movie out of it? 

I guess they had to portray the Romanovs in a good light to lead into the rest of the film, which is also based on a true story, about what kind of really did happen. It's less of an inaccuracy at this point and more of a re-imagining of what would have happened if Anna Anderson (cruel, cruel parents,) was actually Anastasia Romanov. That's actually a totally ok thing to do, in literature. I'm cool with that. 

But come on, guys. Anti commuist propaganda? It's 1997, not the eighties. 

Another thing that's a little bit off about this movie is that it came out in a time where CGI existed, and wasn't terrible, but wasn't advanced enough to make a whole film out of for the kind of budget that Bluth must have had. The result? Random chunks of this movie are done in CGI. And its weird. 
Maybe if we put this shot right at the beginning, they'll be tricked into thinking the whole movie looked this real

Hey Anastasia! Welcome to the future! Too bad you're still animated like it's '96!

Wait, is that real fire in our animated world?

Yup, that's definitely real fire...
And as distracting as that is, they do do some really cool stuff visually. The movie doesn't pledge itself to realism, so besides the normal cartoon gags, there are some really cool surrealist scenes. Which is appropriate for the time it takes place in. For instance, Anastasia has some pretty hallucinations:

 And Rasputin lives in this nifty underground...planet...
And my favorite--they do an entire song about Paris around 1920 (do you know how much I want to live in Paris in the 1920's? Probably a ton.) and they do a lot of the backgrounds like Van Gogh's "Starry Night.
It's really a beautiful piece of animation, and it captures the spirit of the 20's really really well in a couple of shots (not that I was there...) Plus, a nod to Van Gogh? And there are other allusions to twenties culture, my favorite being "Where not even Freud knows the cure." Who watching this movie would understand those?

The person I originally saw this movie with, actually, my best friend's grandfather, probably would have understood it, but we left the theater halfway through. (We were four at the time.) Our leaving was a result of the fact that this movie is actually terrifying--as a result of these guys:

"AHHHH!!!"-any four year old who sees this movie
They're really conceptual things, but I guess they're sort of goonie demons that come from a little stick full of green fluid that Rasputin gets his power from (speaking of Freud...) In any case, they're horrifying, and they attack the train, and it's probably the scariest thing ever. 

"Ohh no puppy!! AHH!!"-four year old 

I was legitimately entertained by this movie, both back in the day and now, as an (almost) adult. The characters and relationships are quite fun and a little bit complex. Anastasia is suffering from some serious post-traumatic stress and repression (more Frued!) and throughout the film her memory returns, and as it does, Demitri, the con man bringing her to the dowager princess of Russia in the guise of the real princess, realizes as well that she may be the Anastasia he knew as a child working in the kitchen of the palace. The two of them have a Harry and Sally sort of relationship, (which is hilarious, because Meg Ryan is the voice of Anastasia,) and in the end Anastasia has to choose between being with him or taking her place as the new duchess of Russia (which is now under Communist control, so it's really just a title...) His being uncomfortable being in love with her once he realizes she is the princess, since he is a kitchen worker/con man, is the only time caste is mentioned in the movie. 

So, fun for its historical inaccuracy, fun for both it's weird and beautiful visuals, and fun for it's plot and plot holes. 

BUT WAIT! Something I reccomend even more is this, the Nostalgia Chick review of the movie. I watched this a long time ago, and honestly didn't remember that she said so much stuff that I said here. But! She says it even better and with more hilarity. Watch it.  Now. 

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