The film was met with criticism by some historians to its fantastical retelling of the life of the Grand Duchess, though it enjoyed a positive reception from many critics. From a $50 million budget, the film grossed $139,804,348 worldwide, making Anastasia a box office success.
The film received nominations for several awards, including for Best Original Song ("Journey to the Past") and Best Original Musical or Comedy Score at the 70th Academy Awards. It is the most profitable film from Don Bluth and Fox Animation Studios to date. The success of Anastasia spawned various adaptations of the film into other media, including a direct-to-video spin-off film, a computer game, books, toys and a stage musical, which premiered in 2016.
In 1916, Tsar Nicholas II hosts a ball at the Catherine Palace to celebrate the Romanov tricentennial. His mother, the Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna, is visiting from Paris, and gives a music box and a necklace inscribed with the words “Together in Paris” as parting gifts to her youngest granddaughter, the 8-year-old Grand Duchess Anastasia. The ball is suddenly interrupted by the sorcerer Grigori Rasputin, the former royal advisor of the Romanovs until he was banished by Nicholas for treason. Seeking revenge, Rasputin sold his soul in exchange for an unholy reliquary, which he uses to place a curse on the Romanov family, sparking the Russian Revolution. During the siege of the palace, only Marie and Anastasia are able to escape with the aid of a servant boy named Dimitri, who shows them a secret passageway in Anastasia's room. Rasputin confronts the two royals outside on a frozen river, only to fall through the ice and drown. The pair manage to reach a moving train, but only Marie climbs aboard while Anastasia falls, hitting her head on the platform and suffering amnesia.
Ten years later, Russia is under communist rule and Marie has publicly offered 10 million rubles for the safe return of her granddaughter. Dimitri and his friend/partner-in-crime Vladimir search for a look-alike to bring to Paris and pass off as Anastasia so they can collect the reward. Elsewhere, Anastasia, now 18 years of age and known as Anya, leaves the rural orphanage where she grew up. Accompanied by a stray puppy she names Pooka, she decides to head to Saint Petersburg in order to arrange transportation to Paris, inspired by the message on her necklace and believing it will lead her to her family. She is unable to leave Russia, however, due to not having an exit visa, but an old woman advises her to see Dimitri at the abandoned palace where he has made residence. Dimitri and Vladimir are impressed by Anya's resemblance to the Grand Duchess Anastasia. After learning that she wishes to go to Paris, Dimitri manages to convince Anya that, because of her lost memories, she cannot rule out the possibility that she is the Grand Duchess. This leads to Anya agreeing to accompany Dimitri and Vladimir to Paris to see Marie, without knowing anything of the reward, which Dimitri has no intention of splitting with her.
Bartok, Rasputin's albino bat minion, is nearby and notices his master's dormant reliquary suddenly revived by Anastasia's presence; it drags him to limbo, where Rasputin survives. Enraged to hear that Anastasia escaped the curse, Rasputin sends his demonic minions from the reliquary to kill her. They fail, forcing Rasputin to travel back to the world of the living to kill Anastasia himself.
Anya, Dimitri, and Vladimir eventually reach Paris and go to meet Marie, but learn that she has given up the search, having been nearly fooled numerous times by impostors. Despite this, Marie's cousin, Sophie, meets with Anya and quizzes her to confirm her identity. Anya offers every answer taught to her, but Sophie then asks Anya how she escaped from the palace ten years ago - a question which Dimitri and Vladimir had not anticipated. Anya, however, vaguely recollects a servant boy and a secret passageway, causing Dimitri to realize that Anya is the real Anastasia. Sophie, also convinced of Anastasia's identity, arranges a meeting with Marie at the Palais Garnier Opera house. There, Dimitri tries to establish an introduction, but Marie refuses, having already heard of Dimitri's initial scheme to con her. Anastasia overhears the conversation and angrily leaves, feeling used. Dimitri then kidnaps Marie and takes her to see Anastasia, showing Marie the music box he recovered during their escape. Anastasia finally meets Marie and regains her memories as they converse, convincing the empress of her identity. The two are joyfully reunited.
Marie offers Dimitri the reward money, but to her surprise, he refuses it and leaves for Russia. Marie finally recognizes him as the servant boy who saved her. That night at Anastasia's return celebration, Marie informs her of Dimitri's gesture, leaving Anastasia torn between staying or being with him. Pooka suddenly runs off; Anastasia chases him to the Pont Alexandre III, where she is trapped and attacked by Rasputin. Dimitri returns to save her but is injured and knocked unconscious while Bartok abandons Rasputin. In the struggle, Pooka manages to get hold of Rasputin's reliquary and Anastasia crushes it under her foot, causing Rasputin to disintegrate and avenging her family.
In the aftermath, Dimitri and Anastasia reconcile; they then elope, and Anastasia sends a farewell letter to Marie and Sophie, promising to return one day.Meg Ryan as Grand Duchess Anastasia Nikolaevna of Russia / "Anya", the youngest daughter at the age of 18 and one of two surviving members of the Imperial family.
Liz Callaway provides the singing voice of Anastasia.
Kirsten Dunst voices 8-year-old Anastasia.
Lacey Chabert provides the singing voice of 8-year-old Anastasia.
John Cusack as Dimitri, a young con man, a former servant of Tsar Nicholas II and Anastasia's love interest.
Jonathan Dokuchitz provides the singing voice of Dimitri.
Glenn Walker Harris Jr. voices a younger Dimitri.
Kelsey Grammer as Vladimir "Vlad" Vanya Voinitsky Vasilovich, a former nobleman and a friend of Dimitri.
Christopher Lloyd as Grigori Rasputin, a dangerous and power-mad sorcerer who cast a curse that would claim the lives of all but two members of the Imperial family: Anastasia and Marie.
Jim Cummings provides the singing voice of Rasputin.
Hank Azaria as Bartok, Rasputin's bumbling small albino bat sidekick who serves as the film's comic relief.
Angela Lansbury as The Dowager Empress Marie, the mother of Nicholas II and Anastasia's grandmother.
Bernadette Peters as Sophie Stanislovskievna Somorkov-Smirnoff, Marie's first cousin, and lady-in-waiting.
Andrea Martin as "Comrade" Phlegmenkoff, the orphanage's inconsiderate owner.
Rick Jones as Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, the last Russian Emperor and Anastasia's father.
Rick Jones also voices a Revolutionary Soldier, a servant, and a ticket agent.
Charity James as Anastasia Imposter
Debra Mooney as Actress
Arthur Malet as Traveling Man, Majordomo
J.K. Simmons, Victoria Clark, and Lillias White are among the ensemble and character voices.
In May 1994, The Los Angeles Times reported that Don Bluth and Gary Goldman had signed a long-term deal to produce animated features with 20th Century Fox with the studio channeling more than $100 million in constructing the animation studio. For the location of the new animation studio, Phoenix, Arizona was selected because the state offered the company about $1 million in job training funds and low-interest loans for the state-of-the-art digital animation equipment, with a staff of 300 artists and technicians, a third of whom worked with Bluth and Goldman in Dublin, Ireland for Sullivan Bluth Studios. For their first project, the studio insisted they select one out of a dozen existing properties which they owned where Bluth and Goldman suggested adapting The King and I and My Fair Lady, though Bluth and Goldman felt it would be impossible to improve on Audrey Hepburn's performance and Lerner and Loewe's score. Following several story suggestions, the idea to adapt Anastasia originated from Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO Bill Mechanic. They would later adapt story elements from Pygmalion with the peasant Anya being molded into a regal woman.
When Bluth and Goldman began researching the actual events, they discovered the history of Anastasia and the Romanov dynasty was too dark for their film, and decided to use the basic facts of the Romanovs' demise and the Russian Revolution as a starting point and ask, "What if this girl escaped, and what would have happened to her?" opting to "'tell a myth or a fairy tale.'" Bluth also did not take into consideration depicting Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks as the villains, and instead incorporated Grigori Rasputin, explaining "We wanted to stay out of politics." In reality, Rasputin was already dead when the Romanovs were assassinated. In addition to this, Bluth created the idea for Bartok, the albino bat, as a sidekick for Rasputin. "I just thought the villain had to have a comic sidekick, just to let everyone know that it was all right to laugh. A bat seemed a natural friend for Rasputin. Making him a white bat came later - just to make him different." Composers Ahrens and Flaherty recalled being at Au Bon Pain in New York City where Rasputin and Bartok were pitched, and being dismayed at the decision to go down a historically inaccurate route; they made their stage musical adaption "more sophisticated, more far-reaching, more political" to encompass their original vision.
Bluth stated that Meg Ryan was his first and only choice for the title character. However, Ryan was indecisive about accepting the role due to its dark historical events. To persuade her, the animation team took an audio clip of Annie Reed from Sleepless in Seattle and created an animation reel based on it which was screened for her following an invitation to the studio. "I was blown away that they did that," Ryan later confessed, and accepted the role. Before Ryan was cast, Broadway actress and singer Liz Callaway was brought in to record several demos of the songs hoping to land a job in background vocals, but were liked well enough by the songwriters that were ultimately used in the final film. Cusack openly admitted after being cast that he couldn't sing, in which his singing duties were performed by Jonathan Dokuchitz as well as Jim Cummings substituting for Christopher Lloyd.
The film score was composed, co-orchestrated, and conducted by David Newman, whose father, Alfred Newman, composed the score of the 1956 film of the same name. The songs, of which "Journey to the Past" was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song, were written by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty. The first song they wrote for the project was Once Upon a December; it was written during a heatwave "so you’re sweating and writing winter imagery". The film's soundtrack was released in CD and audio cassette format on October 28, 1997.
20th Century Fox scheduled for Anastasia to be released on November 21, 1997, notably a week after the 1997 re-release of Disney's The Little Mermaid. Disney claimed it had long-planned for the seventeen-day re-release to coincide with a consumer products campaign leading into Christmas and the film's home video release in March 1998, as well continue the tradition for re-releasing the film within a seven to eight-year interval. In addition to this, Disney would release several competing family films including Flubber on the following weekend, as well as a double feature of George of the Jungle and Hercules. As a response, Disney refused to advertise for Anastasia on the ABC program The Wonderful World of Disney, and banned its corporate sponsors from airing film clips during their television commercials. Commenting on the fierce competition between the two films, Disney spokesman John Dreyer brushed off allegations of studio rivalry claiming "We always re-release our movies around holiday periods." However, Fox executives refused to believe Dreyer's statement with Bill Mechanic responding that "It's a deliberate attempt to be a bully, to kick sand in our face. They can't be trying to maximize their own business; the amount they're spending on advertising is ridiculous....It's a concentrated effort to keep our film from fulfilling its potential."
Anastasia was accompanied with a marketing campaign at more than $50 million with promotional sponsors from Burger King, Dole Food Company, Hershey, Chesebrough-Ponds, Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Shell Oil, and the 1997 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Overall, the marketing costs exceeded that of Independence Day by more than 35 percent. For merchandising, Fox selected Galoob to license dolls based on Anastasia. In August 1997, the SeaWorld theme parks in San Diego and Orlando featured a 40-foot-long, 20-foot-high inflatable playground for children called "Anastasia's Kingdom".
On April 28, 1998, Anastasia was released on VHS and sold eight million units. On March 14, 2006, the film was reissued on a two-disc "Family Fun Edition" DVD with the film in its original theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen format. The first disc contained the film, an optional audio commentary from directors/writers Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, and bonus features. The second disc contained a making-of documentary, music video and making-of featurette of Aaliyah's "Journey to the Past", and additional bonus content. The film was released on Blu-ray on March 22, 2011.
Anastasia received a positive reception from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 85% based on 52 reviews with an average rating of 7.1/10. The website's consensus reads, "Beautiful animation, an affable take on Russian history, and strong voice performances make Anastasia a winning first film from Fox animation studios." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded the film three-and-a-half out of four stars, writing, "The result is entertaining and sometimes exciting". Margaret A. McGurk of The Cincinnati Enquirer described Anastasia as "charming" and "entertaining," concluding, "Anastasia serves up a tasty tale about a fairy-tale princess." Lisa Osbourne of Boxoffice called the film "pure family entertainment." Awarding the film three out of five stars, Empire's Philip Thomas wrote, "Historical inaccuracies aside, Anastasia manages to be a charming little movie".
Several critics have drawn positive comparisons between Anastasia and the Disney films released during the Disney Renaissance, noting similarities in their story and animation styles. Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle awarded the film three out of five stars. Likening its quality to that of a Disney animated film, Baumgarten wrote, "Anastasia...may not beat Disney at its own game, but it sure won't be for lack of trying." Baumgarten continued, "[t]his sumptuous-looking film clearly spared no expense in its visual rendering; its optical flourishes and attention to detail aim for the Disney gold standard and, for the most part, come pretty darn close." The Phoenix's Jeffrey Gantz jokingly stated, "[i]f imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then the folks at Disney should feel royally complimented by Twentieth Century Fox's new animated feature about Tsar Nicholas II's youngest daughter." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "Fox's challenge to the Disney empire is a beautifully animated musical". However, Gleiberman continued, "Anastasia has the Disney house style down cold, yet the magic is missing."
Critical reception in Russia was also, for the most part, positive despite the artistic liberties that the film took with Russian history. Gemini Films, the Russian distributor of Anastasia, stressed the fact that the story was "not history", but rather "a fairy tale set against the background of real Russian events" in the film's Russian marketing campaign so that its Russian audience would not view Anastasia "as a historical film". As a result, many Russians praised the film for its art and storytelling and saw it as "not so much a piece of history but another Western import to be consumed and enjoyed".
Some Russian Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, found Anastasia to be an offensive depiction of the Grand Duchess, who was canonized as a new martyr in 1981 by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia and a passion bearer in 2000 by the Russian Orthodox Church. Many historians echoed their sentiments, criticizing the film as a "sanitized, sugar-coated reworking of the story of the Czar's youngest daughter." While the filmmakers acknowledged the fact that "Anastasia uses history only as a starting point", others complained that the film would provide its audience with misleading facts about Russian history, which, according to the author and historian Suzanne Massie, "has been falsified for so many years." Similarly, the amateur historian Bob Atchison said that Anastasia was akin to someone making a film in which "Anne Frank moves to Orlando and opens a crocodile farm with a guy named Mort."
Some of Anastasia's contemporary relatives also felt that the film was distasteful, but most Romanovs have come to accept the "repeated exploitation of Anastasia's romantic tale ... with equanimity."
A limited release of Anastasia at the Ziegfeld Theatre in New York City on the weekend of November 14, 1997 grossed $120,541. The following week, the wide release of Anastasia in the United States made $14,104,933 (for an average of about $5,692 from 2,478 theaters), which placed it as the #2 film for the weekend of November 21–23, 1997. By the end of its theatrical run, Anastasia had grossed $58,406,347 in the North American box office and $81,398,001 internationally. The worldwide gross totaled up to about $139,804,348, making it Don Bluth's highest-grossing film to date, beating out his previous record holder of that title The Land Before Time from 1988 by about $55,343,502. It should also be noted that this was Don Bluth's first financially successful film since All Dogs Go to Heaven.
Anastasia On Ice was a licensed adaptation produced by Feld Entertainment's on ice unit that ran from at least 1998 to 1999.
In 1999 a direct-to-video spin-off and prequel called Bartok the Magnificent was released which focused on the character of Bartok.
On April 21, 2015, Hartford Stage, Hartford, Connecticut announced that they will premiere a new stage production of Anastasia, with the book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and directed by Darko Tresnjak. The production ran from May 13 through June 19, 2016.
It is an original new musical combining both the 1956 Fox film and the 1997 animated film. According to Tresnjak, the musical features six songs from the animated movie and additionally includes 16 new songs. Additionally, there have been some newly rewritten characters including Checkist secret Police officer Gleb Vaganov (in the place of Rasputin), and Lily, who has been renamed in the place of Sophie. McNally said "This is a stage version for a modern theatre audience...The libretto’s 'a blend' of old and new...There are characters in the musical that appear in neither the cartoon nor the Ingrid Bergman version.”
The Hartford production featured Christy Altomare as Anastasia/Anya, Derek Klena as Dimitri, Mary Beth Peil as The Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, Manoel Felciano as Gleb Vaganov, John Bolton as Vladimir, Caroline O'Connor as Lily, and Nicole Scimeca as Young Anastasia. The musical transferred to Broadway with much of the original Hartford cast, opening on April 24, 2017 at the Broadhurst Theater to mixed reviews.
Anastasia received the Broadcast Film Critics Association Award for Best Family Film and was nominated for 7 others, including two Academy Awards in the categories of "Best Original Musical or Comedy Score" (lost to The Full Monty) and "Best Original Song" for "Journey to the Past" (lost to My Heart Will Go On from Titanic). The R&B singer Aaliyah performed her pop single version of "Journey to the Past" at the 70th Academy Awards.