Anastasia Is Now a Disney Princess: How This Little Movie Ruined Russian History for 1000 Years
There is a meme about Odette (Swan Princess/Nest), Anastasia (Anastasia/Fox), Thumbelina (Thumbelina/Fox), and Kayley (Quest for Camelot/Warner Bros.) all saying they are not Disney Princesses. Well, now that is only true for half of them. Following Disney’s acquisition of Fox, the works of Don Bluth’s Thumbelina and Anastasia, with all the boys in bowl cut glory, have joined Disney and brought Anya and Thumbelina technically under the Disney umbrella.
Not us still obsessing over Anastasia and Dimitri 23 years later. 🥺👉👈 pic.twitter.com/nkHjXCll2B
— Disney+ (@disneyplus) December 7, 2020
Let’s journey into the past.
I saw Fox’s Anastasia in theaters as a child, and it was traumatic (that Rasputin scene) but also introduced me to the kink of liking boys who are kind of mean, via Dimitri. I had the VHS, which I abused, especially to listen to the end cover song of “Journey to the Past” by R’n’B artist Aaliyah. Anastasia also, therefore, was my entry point to the Russian Revolution and the Romanovs.
Which meant I learned, as Angela Lansbury explains in the opening, a jealous Rasputin infused with … demonic magic … turned the people of Russia against the royal family for being casting him out. During the assault on the palace, Anastasia is saved by a young member of the proletariat class, kitchen boy Dimitri. She loses her memory and is raised in an orphanage as Anya, unaware that she is the Grand Duchess Anastasia, with a loving grand-mama in Paris voiced by Angela Lansbury. Thankfully, she has a McGuffin necklace and some vague memories that make her the perfect fit for adult Dimitri and his cohort Vlad to pass off as the real Anastasia.
So, imagine my shock when I picked up The Royal Diaries: Anastasia: The Last Grand Duchess, Russia, 1914 and found out that the Anastasia I knew and loved was based on a real person, and there was no magic involved, just politics and an economic revolution. Even that book did a lot of work to demonize Rasputin, since he was an unpopular figure, but not hated among the royals themselves.
Only later, after reading The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandra, by Helen Rappaport, did I get a better understanding of the Romanovs and why this cult of personality emerged around Anastasia specifically.
Since their deaths, there have been several Romanov impostors because, due to the circumstances of their assassination and the chaotic organization surrounding it, communist disinformation, and a lack of DNA testing, there was a fairytale-like desire to see that one of the young Romanov kids had survived—the most famous of them being Anna Anderson.
Anderson (real name Franziska Schanzkowska) came on the scene in the 1920s, and while most members of the royal family didn’t think she was the real deal, some did.
Eventually, Ernest Louis, Grand Duke of Hesse, Anastasia’s maternal uncle, hired a private investigator to figure out the truth and identified her as Schanzkowska. Still, because Anderson has become so popular, the story lingered and was eventually the inspiration for the 1956 film Anastasia, starring Ingrid Bergman. That film would then turn into the plot premise for the ’90s animated classic that defined my childhood understanding of Anatasia.
Now the film has a home on Disney+, the same company that, when the film was originally be released, decided to rerelease The Little Mermaid in theaters, just to mess with it. Well, talk about having your cake and eating it too.
Well, now when I rewatch Anastasia, I’m both amused by all the references to communism and actual historical detail, and also that a film could be so wildly inaccurate that it made the slaughter of an entire family into the premise for a … family musical film.
That’s the power of cinema.
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