Review: Anastasia Once Upon a Time

You know those movies that you watch with your friends because they're so hilariously bad that you can spend the entire time making fun of every single thing that comes onscreen? Well, that's what this is. I had heard about Armando Gutierrez's time travel Anastasia movie shortly after he released his weird experimental film of The Little Mermaid that takes place in a modern circus. Anastasia: Once Upon a Time is an outlandish interpretation of the theory that the Anastasia Romanov escaped the fall of the Russian Empire, except that here, she was sent through a time portal to the year 1989 that was created by Rasputin. The spark to create this movie probably came from Don Bluth's 1997 animated classic, but the two films have very little in common. You can tell that it came from the same creative minds as 2018's The Little Mermaid because both stories have a mythical princess befriend a young blonde girl who is obsessed with royalty and magic. I guess their thesis is that if you're a little girl who loves princesses, the princesses love you right back, but isn't that what the Disney Parks are for? Actually, this movie contains a gag that takes place in a badly green screened Disney World.

Anastasia: Once Upon a Time starts out a little weird and then gets much weirder. The Romanov family celebrates what would become their last royal ball before the Russian revolutionaries take down the monarchy. That seems pretty normal since it's the only thing in the movie that's even remotely historically accurate. Speaking of historical accuracy, all of the costumes that Anastasia's family wears at the ball look at least remotely believable, but Anastasia's color-shifting purple dress with glitter swirls looks like a deluxe Disney Princess Halloween costume straight out of the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. Anastasia confides in her dear friend Rasputin that she wishes she could share the royal ball with the poor people in her kingdom. He somehow uses his unlimited wealth of magic to let a bunch of orphans in, when the youngest begins singing the only song in the movie. It was a beautiful song, but the scene itself was so bizarre that I couldn't believe what I was watching. No one at the ball knew that Rasputin had let these underdressed orphans in as a favor to Anastasia, and in the midst of their confusion, music starts playing and a girl who looks like she's in preschool begins singing in a classically trained operatic voice that could not possibly belong to a child that age who would never have been able to afford singing lessons. Afterward, everyone applauds as though this whole thing was planned entertainment for the ball, and nobody cares that they let a bunch of strange kids in.

When the Romanovs are attacked, Rasputin uses his ridiculously overpowered magic to open a time portal for the entire family to escape. Anastasia's brothers and sisters are ready to go until they see their father get shot and turn back. Rasputin gives Anastasia a magic necklace that changes colors to tell her who she can and cannot trust and pushes her into the portal. I guess he figures her brothers and sisters can just hang around and die because they're not important to the plot anymore, at least for now. Anastasia comes out of the portal in the year 1989 and meets a girl her age named Megan, who just happens to have a new book about the history of the Romanovs. Here's where things start to get really weird. Even though Anastasia doesn't say anything to Megan upon their first meeting, Megan somehow knows that she's in danger and gives her a place to stay. When she finally does speak, Anastasia introduces herself as "Annie" and acts more like an alien from outer space than a time-traveling princess. She's never seen or heard of things like swings or spaghetti, both of which I'm pretty sure existed in 1917. Meanwhile, Megan has a book with an exact photo of her new friend in it, but she never even suspects that Annie is the lost princess until she tells her directly.

The second half of the movie is a bunch of awkward '80s style music, montages, and hijinks. Megan and Anastasia sneak onstage with a famous pop star at the mall, and for some reason, the pop star decides they're both awesome instead of calling security. In an overdone movie trope montage, Anastasia goes into a fitting room and tries on various fashions from the late '80s to replace her purple Disney Princess costume. Rasputin comes through the portal with a magic map to try to find Anastasia, but keeps getting sidetracked by things like trying to figure out how to properly ride a bus, learning '80s style dances, and getting cast as the villain in some random play. I'm not sure why he finds any of these things more interested than finding a time traveling princess, but sure. At first, it seems like he wants to find Anastasia to help her get back to her family, but then we learn that the Russian revolutionaries have some kind of mind control magic and manipulated Rasputin to bring her back to them so they can finish her off. I had no idea that so many people in Russia had such powerful magic in 1917. You learn something new every day. Anyway, Megan, a little girl, knocks Rasputin, a large man, unconscious using the power of friendship or something like that, and Anastasia miraculously goes back in time to before her father was shot and saves her whole family. Happy ending. I guess.

I can't say that Anastasia: Once Upon a Time is the worst princess movie I've ever seen because it's so bad that it's almost good. I wish I had been watching it with other people so that we could have made jokes about all the ridiculously convenient plot twists and bad special effects. Nothing about this movie made sense, which in a way, is brilliant because it never leaves you with that one lingering thing you wish had been done differently. Why can Rasputin shoot lighting from his fingers? Who knows? Why do they Decembrists have mind control abilities? Who cares? How was Anastasia able to go back in time to before her father was shot? Does it really matter? If there are any surviving descendants of the Romanov family today, I'm pretty sure they would be offended by this faux historical drama. As for the rest of us, at least it's at least bad enough to take our minds off all the problems going on in the world today.


Kristi O. said…
I can definitely confirm, this movie is "So Bad it's Good". I like to host a movie night where I show my friends bad movies starring princesses (Which is very weirdly specific I know), and I am so incredibly excited to show this movie to them. As soon as it's safe to have gatherings again, I'll be screening this film for sure.

Also, I'd like to recommend to you an old movie called "Rolf Kauka's Once Upon a Time". It's an animated film from 1973 and it's one of my favourites. It's an incredibly charming movie, but it's sadly seldom talked about! The DVD is unfortunately really hard to find, but it looks like the film is available on Amazon prime for USA residents at least! I'd definitely recommend checking it out, I feel like you'd really enjoy it.

There's also another film I just finished watching called "Magic Silver", which is a subtitled Norwegian film featuring a Princess having to learn to be brave in order to save her people, a race of Gnomes responsible for bringing day and night into the world. While it wasn't an instant favourite like Rolf Kauka's Once Upon a Time, I still really enjoyed it.

I'll force myself to end this comment now, otherwise I'll just keep blathering on about recommendations for Princess films (As you might imagine, in my quest to find the funny bad ones I tend to run into a lot of actually quite charming ones!)
Lisa Dawn said…
Hi Kristi,

Thank you for the recommendations! I will do my best to check them out. Have a lovely day!
Unknown said…
This is so bad, I'm going to say it. I wish that the cast didn't use Russian accents, I would of preferred them to get better costumes and special effects etc, I know it is meant for kids but Anastasia and the Romanovs were real people and if this was about me I would be very, very offended as nothing makes sense at least the animated movie and the musical are fun and have some factual elements. Also I nearly forgot that they could of casted better actors like Anastasia even though the actresses is talented and pretty she has brown hair, brown eyes and a bit of a tan that Anastasia did not have. Oh and no hate to the actors its not their fault the script is so bad and the creators have no idea what the are doing!

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