While widely considered a classic children’s film, 1997's Anastasia was super dark. Of course, it's not the only grim kids' movie ever made; it doesn't even mark the first bleak Don Bluth movie. This doesn't disqualify it from being good, but there are myriad ways Anastasia is a weird movie.
First and foremost, it's historical fiction about the last Russian czar whose entire immediate family gets murdered. That's a somewhat morbid launching point for a children's movie. Like the trippier versions of Robin William's Genie, Anastasia doesn't lack for intensely creepy elements.
On the ship with Dimitri (John Cusack) and Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer), Anastasia (Meg Ryan) experiences a dark-magic-induced nightmare that results in her nearly jumping off the boat. It begins as a sweet dream in which her little brother leads her to a watering hole where her father and sisters are swimming. But then, Anastasia's voice takes on a tinny, demonic, echoing quality. And as her father urges her to jump, he transforms into a bat-monster.
Suddenly, more beasts appear to torment and pull at Anastasia, until Dimitri saves her from falling overboard by yanking her out of the dream. It's an impressive scene, reminiscent of Fantasia in some ways. But like that creepy movie, it's a little too dark for a G-rated film.
If Anastasia received a PG rating, it would have made more sense. But G? The movie seems a little scary for kids at certain points. There's a scene where Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) is decomposing, and his head sinks into his body - which Bartok (Hank Azaria) follows to have a chat inside the sorcerer's rib cage. It's weird and gross, and at the very least warrants a more restrictive rating.
At the end of the movie, Rasputin's bat sidekick, Bartok, gets cold feet about killing Anastasia and abandons him. The very last scene even shows Bartok watching Dimitri and Anastasia dance on a boat. Suddenly, a pink bat shows up and kisses him, and we're left remembering the wisecracking nocturnal creature in a favorable light.
The problem is, Bartok was very much involved in Rasputin's machinations to kill Anastasia's entire family. He helped Rasputin place the curse on the Romanov family, and later informs him Anastasia is still alive. Is the audience really supposed to forgive him simply because he's a talking bat?
Anastasia and her grandmother attempt to escape the chaos in the midst of the revolution by boarding a moving train. Anastasia isn't able to board, though, and falls back onto the platform. First of all, the notion that such a fall could cause any harm, much less brain trauma severe enough to cause amnesia, is laughable. But let's accept it did.
No head injury induces amnesia without other symptoms. Anastasia's amnesia is quite severe, as she forgets her entire life and identity. An injury causing that much damage would involve other significant symptoms, like a vegetative state.
Anastasia even takes a more dangerous tumble at the end of the movie, during her battle with Rasputin, where she gets thrown backward on cobblestones, rolling across the unforgiving surface. That might have given her amnesia, but she walked away unscathed.