Obligatory Year-End Post on Theater

Since I spent half of the year still writing theater reviews, I felt as though I should still write a post on the highlights of what I saw this year. I’m not going to put out a list of the best plays of the year because I missed Harper Reagan, The Brother/Sister Plays, Cabaret as done by The Hypocrites, and Suicide Incorporated, among others. (Plus, I’m seeing Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? next year due to scheduling.) Overall, I saw 45 plays this year. I saw 11 plays in February, which is the most I’ve ever seen in a single month. I also went two months without seeing a play due to my involvement with Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Still Life With Iris and Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre’s Flight of the Lawnchair Man. So, here’s a list of what were the highlights and one disappointment among plays that opened this year that I saw.

Highlights:

-The Year of Magical Thinking at Court Theatre

The one-woman play by Joan Didion, based on her book of the same title, featured a terrific performance from Mary Beth Fisher as Didion, trying to cope with the death of her husband and the illness of her daughter. The intimate-feeling production directed by Charles Newell felt like a very lovely, heartbreaking conversation with Joan Didion rather than a play, which is probably why it had such a strong emotional impact for me.

-And He Flew Over the Forest by Brain Surgeon Theatre at Prop Thtr

Randall Colburn and Gwen Tulin’s play about a girl on the verge of adolescence as her family squabbles made me cry. Twice. (I saw it twice.) It was short, under one hour long, and had a lovely earthy set for the forest that the family was spending their vacation in. With the immersive environment of the play, as well as the songs dispersed throughout the play, my disbelief was suspended, which is sometimes hard for a work to do. It was well worth the two trips out to Prop Thtr.

-Cabaret by The Theatre School at DePaul University

This production shook me up emotionally and any production that can do that, regardless of it’s a university production or a non-Equity production or an Equity production, should be taken note of. This production, directed by Barry Brunetti, was not as scaled-back as The Hypocrites’ production (which I missed), but this production was heart-wrenching and showed how relevant Kander and Ebb’s musical still is.

-K. by The Hypocrites

Greg Allen’s adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial was intense but simple, featuring terrific performances from all involved. Although I’m still on the fence on the use of an intermission in the play, it was a great play to see after a hiatus from seeing theater.

-The Producers by Theatre Cedar Rapids

The inaugural production at the renovated Iowa Theatre signaled that Theatre Cedar Rapids was back. Having seen this production on Broadway, I can say that this production, helmed by Leslie Charipar, was more enjoyable than what I saw on Broadway. Both Scott Schulte and Trevor Debth’s performances as Bialystock and Bloom, respectively, were new versions on the characters, originated by Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick on Broadway. The production was the most fun I had at the theater this year and was definitely a highlight. (Also, I missed Rent. I have no opinion on their production of Rent and I am sorry that I missed it.)

-Cherrywood by Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company
Kirk Lynn’s play about a house party was done by Mary-Arrchie under the direction of David Cromer, who cast 49 actors to create an energetic, fascinating evening of theater in the small space the theater company performs in. Although I would have loved to see it in its original production, it was an excellent production to witness.

Disappointment

-Wilson Wants It All by House Theatre of Chicago

I had heard from practically everyone that House was amazing and I needed to see one of their plays. Unfortunately, it seems as though Wilson Wants It All was not a good introduction to their work. With a predictable, dull script that the terrific performances couldn’t over come, it was one of the few moments where I wished a play was 90 minute one-act. Although I plan on seeing Odradek and Star Witness next year because I feel as though House deserves a second chance.

The Great 90′s Animated Film Project: “The Iron Giant” (1999)

Previously:
Mulan,
The Swan Princess,
Pocahontas,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
Hercules,
The Prince of Egypt,
Anastasia,
Quest for Camelot,
Tarzan

And now, the final part of The Great 90′s Animated Film Project, a post on the Brad Bird’s 1999 film The Iron Giant. The film is based off of Ted Hughes 1968 novel, The Iron Man and uses various points in that to serve as the basis. Although, if I remember the novel correctly, most of what happens in the film does not occur in the book. (It’s been a while since I read the book.)

In 1957, a large object is falling from the sky and the Iron Giant (Vin Diesel) crash lands off the coast of Maine, destroying a boat on accident and scaring a fisherman. The next day, we meet Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal), as he heads to the diner that his mother, Annie (Jennifer Aniston), works at to show her the new pet he’s found. Annie doesn’t want a pet and the prospective pet, a squirrel, ends up getting loose in the diner, reeking havoc. Annie later has to work late and when the TV signal goes out, Hogarth goes out into the woods and finds the Iron Giant eating metal at the electrical substation. The Iron Giant later gets tangled up in power lines and Hogarth saves him by turning off the electricity.

The next day, Kirk Mansley, a U.S. Government agent arrives in the quaint town of Rockwell after hearing stories of large creatures and pieces of metal being eaten. Mansley dismisses these stories until half of his car is eaten, and then taken by the giant while Mansley isn’t watching. Hogarth then goes and finds the giant and teaches him English. After a train derailment that occurs when the giant tries to fix a track he screws up, the giant becomes dismembered, but hides in the Hughes’ barn while his various body parts go and return to him. Mansley shows up at the Hughes’ house to use the phone and becomes a bit suspicious of Hogarth and his stories. That evening Hogarth tells the giant of Superman and how the giant is like Superman: an alien that becomes a hero.

The next morning, Mansley rents a room with the Hughes and goes off with Hogarth for a trip intended to be spent with the giant. Hogarth manages to beat off Mansley and go to the giant, whom he takes to Dean (Harry Connick, Jr.), a beatnik scrap metal yard owner and artist, whom he convinces to take in the giant. After Mansley has photographic evidence of the giant’s existence, he informs Lieutenant General Rogard (John Mahoney) and the military arrives. They are then tricked into thinking that the giant is one of Dean’s pieces of art, but then the military discovers that the giant does exist.

The fascinating thing about Bird’s film is that both he screenplay writer Tim McCaniles have eschewed the formula for animated films. There are no musical numbers, there is no Cute Little Animated Character and the film works just fine without them. In fact, the film manages to be more effective without them because of the focus on the internal struggle the giant has between his two natures. He can either be a weapon or he can be Superman. His instinct to be a weapon is defensive and when the military starts attacking him and Rockwell, his response to become a weapon is terrifying. But the ending of the film is when he decides to be the hero, to be Superman. As he says to Hogarth, “I am not a gun,” and his realization as to what his destiny is causes this film to be so emotionally effective.

But the Iron Giant is not the only hero in the film; there’s also Hogarth, a kid who loves scary films and comics. Because of his desire to have a pet, one might assume that Hogarth’s decision to teach the giant English and play with him is because he wants a pet. But Hogarth ultimately sees the giant as a person and an individual that has a soul. “You’re made of metal, but you have feelings, and you think about things, and that means you have a soul,” he says to the giant at one point. He sees the giant as a person and to the credit of Bird and McCaniles, the Iron Giant is a more emotionally complex and nuanced character than most characters in the films I’ve watched for this series of blog posts.

Kirk Mansley serves as the villain in this film; he is a scummy, government agent. He isn’t downright evil, but he is aware of the power he has as a government agent. During an interrogation of Hogarth, he explains that he could get someone in the government to take him away from his mother. Mansley is, if anything, mad with power and manipulative. He rents the room that the Hughes have so he can get to know Hogarth better and find out as much as he can about the giant. Mansley is an incredibly motivated antagonist that manages to destroy three vehicles in the film. But Mansley is also a coward, as seen at the end of the film where, when being told he will die for his country because of a stupid mistake he made, Mansley yells, “Screw our country! I want to live!” Mansley is a weasel; he is a scumbag. He is not so much a villain as an antagonist because he is a person, not some caricature. Although there can be very good villains that are completely evil, but those villains are motivated and manage to be human.

Although, you could argue that one of the human characters is a Cute Little Animal Character. But then who would it be? Hogarth? Dean? The problem is that none of the characters are exactly wise-cracking sidekicks. Although Dean makes comments about how espresso is “like Coffeezilla,” it’s part of his character and comes off as being more of a way of explaining espresso’s potency to a kid. All of the characters, even the Iron Giant, are characters that feel human. They have developed emotions and feelings, they are motived to do what they do in the film.

As for the animation, The Iron Giant does not have the magnificent animation of The Prince of Egypt or Tarzan, but the simplicity of the animation feels like a reflection of the film itself, which is a simple science-fiction film that has one purpose: to tell a story. And the animators managed to have incredibly expressive characters. Even the Iron Giant, who does not have the face of a human, manages to show emotions just by how the eyes change.

The Iron Giant is not a epic musical like many of its predecessors. It is a film that tells a story of friendship and evokes the mood and attitude of the 1950′s with videos about ducking and covering during nuclear holocaust. The film tells us that we are who we choose to be and what this film chose to be was a film that told a story, not a film that sold merchandise. And the simplicity of this film is what makes it great.

The Great 90′s Animated Film Project: “Tarzan” (1999)

Previously:
Mulan,
The Swan Princess,
Pocahontas,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
Hercules,
The Prince of Egypt,
Anastasia,
Quest for Camelot

And now we come to the last Disney film of The Great 90′s Animated Film Project: Tarzan. The 1999 film is based off of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel Tarzan of the Apes and falls under the category of “Films With So Many Deviations from The Source I Don’t Know Where To Begin.”

But I would like to start off by saying that this is an astoundingly beautiful film.

For this film, the animators used a 3D painting and rendering technique they called “Deep Canvas.” The Deep Canvas in this film causes it to have realistic yet picturesque backgrounds of the jungle that Tarzan is set in. What is interesting about doing this project is that I’ve been able to see how the quality of animation has evolved over over the course of five years. The quality of animation seen in Pocahontas is nowhere near as incredible as the animation in Tarzan. In fact, the only film with animation like Tarzan‘s is The Prince of Egypt.

But to the story of the film.

At the start of the film, Tarzan’s family is marooned in Africa after their ship goes up in flames. They build a treehouse and start a life in Africa. At the same time, a gorilla tribe, led by Kerchak (Lance Henriksen), is living somewhat peacefully in the jungle. Kerchak and Kala (Glenn Close) are raising their own ape child, who wanders off one day and is killed by Sabor, who in this film is a single leopard rather than various lionesses. As the tribe is on the move one day and Kala hears a baby crying and deviates from the tribe, to find Tarzan and the dead bodies of his parents, killed by Sabor. (We don’t see this, but it is heavily implied.) Kala brings Tarzan back and decides to raise him as her own, although Kerchak approves in a “Oh, how cute, my wife has an annoying possibly vicious pet” sort of way, not in a “Let’s adopt him as our son” way. As Tarzan (Alex D. Linz) is a child, he becomes ever aware of his differences, perpetually pointed out to him by Kerchak and Terk (Rosie O’Donnell), but Kala informs him that they are essentially the same.

Tarzan (now Tony Goldwyn) grows up, he becomes a quick, agile, warrior and “ape man,” although he would technically be a “gorilla man” since he was brought up by gorillas in this film. In fact, he defends Kerchak from Sabor. He’s now friends with not only Terk, but also a neurotic elephant named Tantor (Wayne Knight). Everything seems fine, until he hears gunshots and the tribe moves. Tarzan goes and investigates, to find Professor Potter (Nigel Hawthorne), Clayton (BRIAN BLESSED), and Professor Potter’s pretty daughter, Jane (Minnie Driver). Jane becomes separated from the group and is chased by baboons, but saved by Tarzan, whom she is immediately terrified of. Then we have the necessary, “Me, Tarzan. You, Jane” sequence. Tarzan then decides to take Jane back to the camp, to discover that the gorillas are trashing the camp because of foreign objects that intrigue them. Jane explains to her father and Clayton about Tarzan and they decide to teach him English and observe him for two different reasons: science and greed. Tarzan then shows them the gorillas and this pisses of Kerchak. Kala then shows Tarzan the treehouse, which is miraculously still standing after several years, and explains to him that he is human, not gorilla. He decides to leave for England, but behold, Clayton is double-crossing jerk that wants to hunt the gorillas.

Tarzan is far from true to its source material. For starters, Tarzan is now raised by gorillas and Kerchak isn’t a murderous ape that kills Tarzan’s parents. Those are two big things. There’s also Jane now being from England rather than America. It’s been a while since I read the book and I can’t list all of the deviations. Still, Disney cleaned up Tarzan and it still is amazing that it got a G rating.

The biggest problem that this film has is that it takes a long time to set up the story. While Hercules and The Hunchback of Notre Dame set up the main story in incredible musical numbers, the set-up to the main story in Tarzan takes almost 30 minutes. The film is also overstuffed with antagonists, having three of them (Sabor, Kerchak, Clayton) and the songs that Phil Collins wrote and sang in the film mostly sound similar. (More on that later) Tarzan doesn’t really gain any momentum, pacing or emotion related, until a third of the way into the movie. But at the same time, when the film is done, it’s a heartwarming and touching story of the importance of family, be they gorilla or human. (See also, Anastasia, which is ultimately about the search for a family and an identity.)

It just really takes a while to get there.

But the film also feels more endurable once the humans show up because it adds some variety. Jane is quite possibly one of the more interesting female Disney leads because even though she’s seen walking around the jungle in a huge Victorian dress, she still is written as an interesting, independent, curious woman. She’s an artist and has at least a slight interest in nature. She seems to genuinely care for Tarzan as a person, not as a specimen.

What is notable about the film is that it isn’t a musical like so many other Disney films that came before. There are five songs in the film, all but one were sung primarily by Phil Collins. The one that isn’t sung by Phil Collins is “Trashin’ The Camp,” which was performed by Rosie O’Donnell and is one of the least necessary feeling sequences in the film. Even Mulan, which didn’t have the amount of numbers its predecessors had, is ultimately a musical. The lack of numbers used to propel the plot seems to be a phasing out of the Disney Animated Film formula since the next animated feature that wasn’t Fantasia 2000 didn’t have any musical numbers. (That film was Atlantis: The Lost Empire.) Unfortunately, the songs that Phil Collins sings are not that catchy except for “Two Worlds” at the beginning of the film because they start to sound the same. Mark Mancina’s score is much more interesting and memorable because of its use of percussion instruments to invoke a jungle tribal sound.

As for villains, while the film serves up three antagonists, the “villain” in this film is Clayton. Clayton just looks creepy and there’s a sense that he’s up to no good, but he doesn’t start to get menacing until the very end. And when he does get menacing, its not pretty. But while most villains are well-established in the film as being a bad guy, Clayton just seems to be a pretty shady guy for most of the film.

Tarzan also features two Cute Little Animal Characters: Terk and Tantor. Terk is the most annoying, unnecessary Cute Little Animal Character in any of the films I’ve watched. Tantor, on the other hand, even with his neurosis, is an interesting and useful character. He helps rescue the characters and becomes an aid to the gorilla tribe. Had the film had just one sidekick, Tantor, it might have been more interesting. But then Tarzan would have never met Tantor had it not been for a stupid dare Terk gave Tarzan as a kid.

Tarzan is far from being one of Disney’s best films of the decade, but it’s a beautiful film that shows off Disney’s ability to create visually stunning films. It has its flaws but it is the last great animated film that Disney made for a while.

The Great 90′s Animated Film Project: “Quest for Camelot” (1998)

Previously:
Mulan,
The Swan Princess,
Pocahontas,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
Hercules,
The Prince of Egypt,
Anastasia

When the film Quest for Camelot starts out, you think that it will be a great, exciting film with knights, lots of Celtic music, and a girl whose father dies early in the film. Quest for Camelot is a film with knights, lots of Celtic music, and a girl whose father dies early in the film, but it is rather dull.

Quest for Camelot is a Warner Brothers’ film directed by Frederick Du Chau that was released after their success with Space Jam, which is a really fun, clever film. This film is very loosely based off of the novel The King’s Damosel and features such changes as the protagonist being named Kayley instead of Lynette, the protagonist having a seemingly perfect childhood (although the thing that would make it imperfect would have definitely resulted in it not getting a G rating), two characters being combined into one, and the addition of the characters of Ruber, Bladebeak, and Devon and Cornwall.

Kayley (Sarah Freeman) has a perfect life with her mother, Juliana (Jane Seymour), and father, Sir Lionel (Gabriel Byrne), a Knight of the Round Table. But one day, while Lionel is at Camelot, he is killed by Ruber (Gary Oldman), another knight, who is trying to attack King Arthur. Kayley is saddened and ten years later has grown up, taking care of the farm with her mother.

It’s a lovely day in Camelot until a griffin (Bronson Pinchot) steals Excalibur. Back at the ranch, Ruber comes and he’s hot for Juliana and wants Camelot, nay, he wants it all. He has an entire song about how he wants it all. But wanting it all starts with getting Camelot, so he kidnaps Juliana while Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig) escapes. Ruber then causes his minions to fuse with their weapons and one of Juliana and Kayely’s chickens to fuse with an axe, creating Bladebeak (Jaleel White). Kayley decides that while fleeing Ruber she will retrieve Excalibur and go to Camelot. While in the Forbidden Forest, she meets the blind hermit Garrett (Cary Elwes), who does an excellent job fighting bad guys. (Like Toph Bei Fong, but without the awesome earthbending) Her and Garrett then end up in Dragon Country, where they meet the two-headed/conjoined dragons Devon (Eric Idle) and Cornwall (Don Rickles), who bicker and cannot fly or breathe fire. The three/four then leave the Dragon Country and go towards a rock ogre that had Excalibur. They retrieve it and head towards Camelot, but Garrett leaves because he feels as though he doesn’t belong there. But then Ruber catches up with them and he wants it all.

This really does feel like a well intentioned film that was meant to steal Disney’s thunder. (A film released later that year by Dreamworks, actually succeeded.) But the characters lack dimension and the fight scenes aren’t thrilling to watch. Kayley is a spunky heroine and that’s it. And the dialogue in the screenplay by Du Chau, Kirk De Micco, William Schifrin, Jacqueline Feather, and David Seidler? Terrible. The film features such lines as “What is a damsel?” and “I stand alone too!”, which is said after the one memorable song in the film “I Stand Alone.” Although, Eric Idle gets the best line in the film when, while explaining why Devon and Cornwall are conjoined, says “Frankly, we’re the reason cousins shouldn’t marry.” But by the end of the film, it starts to rely on anachronisms in the form of pop culture references, such as Bladebeak referencing Dirty Harry, airline references, and Devon and Cornwall saying, “Houston, we have a problem.” It feels like the writers got lazy.

And with the characters not having much depth, that’s a huge problem with Ruber being a menacing or even mildly terrifying villain. Sure, he looks scary and has chipped fingernails, but he just wants it all. That character even has a song just about how he wants it all. He’s not a corrupt human or a villainous sorcerer; he’s a caricature that Oldman tries hard to make him seem terrifying. Except I kept thinking “It’s Joe Orton!” and that helps nothing.

This might also be the only film that has a completely interesting score and uninteresting music. Even Tarzan has one memorable song. Patrick Doyle’s score utilizes traditional Celtic music to set the tone and setting for the film, except that the anachronisms at the end that make it feel more like a lot of animated films churned out now. Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster’s songs are rather unmemorable, just because they’re furthering the plot, but its nothing I will be humming later. I also have to note that the film used bands and celebrities for the singing voices of the characters, such as Celine Dion being the singing voice of Juliana and Bryan White doing the singing voice of Garrett. However, when Garrett has a song, it is painfully obvious that Bryan White sounds nothing like (Cary Elwes). Bryan White has one of the better songs in the film, but he starts singing and all I could think of was, “It’s country musician Bryan White!”

And the main Cute Little Animal Character(s) are Devon and Cornwall, whom the film could function quite well without. In fact, it feels like a waste of Eric Idle and in a film where every character speaks with a British accent, Don Rickles speaking with an American Accent doesn’t make much sense. It feels very much that Devon and Cornwall are put in to satisfy the “formula” of adapting some novel or legend, adding in musical numbers, and having a Cute Little Animal Character that cracks jokes.

But Quest for Camelot does have good animation. It’s not breathtaking animation, but it’s good quality animation, even if the characters aren’t that expressive.

Quest for Camelot is definitely a film that could have possibly been good. But it’s not interesting and lacks action, considering its about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s clear that there were a lot of resources put into this film, it just doesn’t show until you get to the credits.

The Great 90′s Animated Film Project: “Anastasia” (1997)

Previously:
Mulan,
The Swan Princess,
Pocahontas,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
Hercules,
The Prince of Egypt

Before starting this series of posts, I had watched Anastasia and classified it as a film that paying attention in school ruined for me, which is what I also classify Pocahontas as. I had disliked it so much after that previous viewing that I considered not rewatching it for this post. I decided that would be unfair and after rewatching the film, it would have been.

Before I start with this analysis of sorts, I’d like to discuss the idea of the world of the film.

The world of the film is essentially the setting for the film and the “world of the film” helps justify the actions of the characters, no matter how bizarre they are. This is why Hercules is an enjoyable film; the film is silly and the world of the film enables the silliness to be accepted. This is what makes the thoroughly flawed Anastasia work, for the most part.

This film comes from the 1956 live-action film with Ingrid Bergman and Yul Brynner that uses the urban legend that the Grand Dutchess Anastasia lived while the other Romanovs died as its basis. The film opens in 1916, where Tsar Nicholas II is hosting a ball where his mother, the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury), is in attendance. She arrives with gifts for her favorite granddaughter, Anastasia (Kirsten Dunst as a child, Meg Ryan as an adult), one of which is a necklace that has on the back, “Together in Paris.” Enter Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) who is mad at the Romanovs and vows to have his revenge. As it turns out, Rasputin has sold his soul to start the Russian Revolution. The Revolution begins and the palace is overrun with angry citizens. Marie and Anastasia escape the palace thanks to a kitchen boy named Dimitri, but the two are separated when Anastasia falls from a train, hitting her head. Meanwhile, Rasputin has fallen into a frozen lake.

Ten years later, there are rumors that Anastasia lived and Dimitri (John Cusack), all grown up and now a con man working with Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer), wants to make money off of this. Meanwhile, Anastasia is leaving the orphanage where she has grown up as Anya. She decides to go to St. Petersburg instead of the fish factory because of the necklace that says “Together in Paris.” She then goes to Dimitri, who is living in the palace, to try to get some fake papers. Dimitri notices how much Anastasia/Anya looks like Anastasia and decides she’ll masquerade as the Grand Duchess. Meanwhile, Rasputin has been awoken from Limbo by his albino bat sidekick, Bartok (Hank Azaria), and spends a good portion of the film trying to kill Anastasia. The trio, on the other hand, gets to Paris, where they’re informed by Sophie (Bernadette Peters) that the Dowager Empress does not want to see anymore pretend Anastasias, but that they should go to the Russian Ballet. And then the plot thickens as Anastasia begins to remember things.

Anastasia works for the most part in terms of its logicalness. Take for example Rasputin selling his soul to start the Russian revolution; this is something that is simultaneously awesome and ridiculous. But if Rasputin can sell his soul to initiate a key event in history, then a lot of things in this film make sense. This doesn’t help clear up all of the problems in the film, such as why are Dimitri and Anastasia the two people in the film that speak with American accents? Or how it is that in the climactic battle scene Dimitri knows where Anastasia is?

But like the film that it derives from, Anastasia is based on a legend that anyone can find out is false by opening up a history book. The film is entertaining, amusing, and Dimitri has a lot more depth than the average Prince Charming or rogue in any Disney film. The film does suffer from Let’s-Have-Drawn-Out-Sequences-Of-Rasputin-Trying-To-Kill-Anastasia fatigue, but it’s mostly enjoyable. What other film has a villain that sells his soul to start the Russian Revolution?

The songs, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens (of Ragtime fame), are mostly memorable and tuneful. The one song in the film that stood out to me was “In the Dark of the Night,” which feels like pulling a page from The Lion King with a great, upbeat dark song where the villain sings about their triumphant return and how people should be prepared. Rasputin (singing voice of Jim Cummings) sings it backed up by a bug chorus, makes a triumphant return to the film and makes one actually hopeful that Rasputin will pull out the stops and make his plot very interesting. Unfortunately, it feels just like, “I will throw all of the magic I have at Anastasia.”

And in regards to the music, may we please take a moment to agree that “At the Beginning” was a very annoying earworm from the 1990′s?

In regards to the character of Rasputin, he’s a bit terrifying. Look at him. He just looks terrifying. And the guy sold his soul to start the Russian Revolution. There are things more nefarious than that—going on a mad hunt to find a woman you’re lusting for that involves setting a house on fire with the inhabitants locked in, setting a village on fire—that is a bit wicked. But at the same time, his attempts to kill Anastasia and permanently end the Romanov line ends up causing the film to lose momentum when really it shouldn’t lose momentum as the characters are on a runaway train.

As for the Cute Little Animal Character in this film, Bartok actually helps make the film enjoyable. Frequently, he serves as the little-heeded voice of reason to Rasputin. Yes, he is a wise-cracking sidekick/minion (In regards to Anastasia: “I’d give her a HA! And a HI-YA! And then a WA! And I’d kick her, sir.”), but he seems to add to the film rather than detract to it. Although his origins are never mentioned in the film, he seems to have been roped into the job of Rasputin’s minion. Although it’s nice to see Anastasia reunited with her grandmother, I found that Bartok was the one character I was rooting for in the film because he’s the most interesting character.

Although Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s film isn’t as well animated as a Disney movie, it still has some terrific animation. The film is horribly flawed, but it’s still enjoyable and a good children’s movie, although not a great introduction to Russian and world history. And if anything, the film shows us that Kelsey Grammer does a pretty good Russian accent.