All I can say is that this was a damned tricky post to write!
I watched both Anastasia and The Swan Princess last week as I had never seen them before and while one left me pleasantly surprised, the other made me feel like I had watched an hour and a half of my life disappear without any chance of getting it back.
The Swan Princess is by far the more entertaining film. OK, it’s pure fantasy, but at least its enjoyable. The characters are relatively simple, yet fun. The main characters are your typical princess, prince/hero and villain. There is a nice character development sequence at the beginning that follows the prince and princess as they grow up. There are some humourous moments and it provides a good background to the characters mutual hatred for one another all through their childhoods. While both characters are not near as rich and developed as I would have liked, my enjoyment of the film was not hampered by it.
The animation, with plenty of nice, hand-drawn goodness, is grand. The nice thing about this film is that it doesn’t pretend to be complicated film vaulting for the critical appraisal. It was created for the family-friendly market and that is squarely where it is strongest. Adults will have a tougher time enjoying this film for the simple reason that it came out before Toy Story, when animated films generally didn’t appeal to adults as well as kids.
Anastasia, in comparison, is the juggernaut from Don Bluth and FOX. It aims high with lush, fluid animation, a high concept storyline and plenty of top-notch animation filled with complimentary CGI. On paper, it should be by far the better film however in reality, it is anything but.
I found it an OK film in that there is nothing inherently wrong with it, just that I found it less enjoyable than I was expecting. Perhaps I was hoping that it would be up to par with the Disney films of the same time and unfortunately, myself and audiences of the time agree that it is not. The animation is superb, the plot is fine, the pace is a bit erratic and there is an anti-climax at the start of the final act. However, the biggest letdown are the characters.
The God-awful voice-acting of Meg Ryan and John Cusack doesn’t help either. These two are clearly not voice-actors. Their performances are about as flat as you can imagine. There is none of the energy that you normally see and expect from an animated film and it really does show during the dramatic scenes where I found it very hard to care for the characters for the simple reason that they seemed so fake. Even the great Christopher Lloyd as Rasputin is powerless to balance the monotony of these two, who, in all honesty, end up sapping so much life from the characters of Anastasia and Dimirti that they become almost unwatchable.
Overall, both films are fine. Neither advances the animation artform any more than what came before it but that should not detract you from searching them out and giving them a shot. I was surprised by both (for different reasons) but I am glad I watched them, despite what I said in the opening paragraph.
PS. Apologies for the insular nature of this post.