Anastasia (1997) vs The Swan Princess (1994)


For this installment of Showdown! we will compare two much loved non-Disney animated films: Anastasia (1997) and The Swan Princess (1994).

Plot:

The tale of Princess Anastasia and her family’s demise during the Russian revolution is well-known; both the facts and the myths. The idea that Anastasia escaped death and was later rediscovered (a fact yet to be proven) is as interesting as any to turn into a story. In this version Anya has no memories of her past and after meeting up with Dimitri and his friends they try to turn her into the lost princess in order to get a reward from her grandmother, not knowing she truly is Anastasia. Similar to The Hunchback of Notre Dame and other adult stories turned children tales, this film is a much more diluted version of the original story.

The Swan Princess is based on one of the most famous ballets of all time: Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.  Based on Russian folklore, the story is about a princess named Odette who is turned into a swan by an evil sorcerer. A prince falls in love with Odette and his love helps to break the curse. The movie follows the ballet pretty closely, with the exception of having its lovers live at the end instead of die and ascend to Heaven together. Swan Lake is a famous story for a reason and it translated very well into an animated film. The life of Anastasia is not what you think of for a children’s story but Swan Lake is the perfect story to become an animated princess tale.

Point: The Swan Princess

characters

Characters:

Anastasia (voiced by Meg Ryan) is a strong and intelligent female lead and a great role model (much better than some of the two-dimensional early Disney princesses). She makes independent decisions and is strong-willed and witty during her journey to discover her past identity. Dimitri (voiced by John Cusack) is a great character to play opposite her because he is also sharp and intelligent and a bit of a rebel. Rather than one rescuing the other they play off her each other perfectly. The famous Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) is turned into a warlock in this film and he uses dark magic to attempt regeneration (and wants to kill Anastasia of course). The secondary characters are all lovely and original and include the Dowager Empress, former nobleman and Dimitri’s partner in crime Vladimir, Rasputin’ bat sidekick and the adorable French Sophie. There isn’t a single boring or two-dimensional character to be found in the entire film.

In The Swan Princess Odette has all of the typical princess traits: modesty, compassion, and grace. However, she spends most of the film waiting for her prince to rescue her and is essentially not much more than your typical damsel in distress. Prince Derek is just as clichéd as Odette but at least is a bit more interesting as he dedicated his life to training to fight the beast that he thinks has kidnapped Odette. He’s valiant and true but really not particularly three-dimensional. Even the side-kicks were predictable. A French frog and a slow-talking turtle named Speed make up two of the three of Odette’s animal friends. The third, a Puffin is frankly just annoying. The rest of the characters do their parts to fill the natural secondary character niches. Lord Rothbert is a creepy enough villain whose sorcery patterns prove a formidable power, even if his persistence is in what seems like a ridiculously unnecessary plan to win the kingdom. In the end, Anastasia just has much better, deeper, and more fun characters.

Point: Anastasia

Animation:

Anastasia has beautiful animation. Rich colors that seem textured and real are combined with realistic movements and gorgeous scenery (especially of Paris). Everything sparkles and shines and even the snow looks real. Anastasia can hold its own (and sometimes even exceed), any animated Disney film.

The Swan Princess has your standard 2D animation complete with bright colors and backgrounds that read like an oil painting. A small detail that annoyed me was the variation of the eye coloration of the characters. At some points in the film they all have purple eyes (a genetic impossibility) and then sometimes they change to blue or other colors. Inconsistencies like that may seem nitpicky but to me scream laziness. All in all there’s nothing really wrong with the animation but also nothing stand-out about it either. Where The Swan Princess is sometimes dull and muted, Anastasia is always bright and beautiful.

Point: Anastasia

songs

Music:

Anastasia is often mistakenly identified as a Disney film, which makes sense since it’s a high quality animated film with beautiful music. The songs are memorable and varied and are performed to perfection. Anastasia sings Journey to the Past while beginning her journey to find her forgotten family and Once Upon a December when she struggles to bring back memories of her tragedy.  Other songs include A Rumor in St. Petersburg, In the Dark of the Night, and Learn to Do It. Every song is unique and fun with memorable lyrics and tunes and is accompanied by stunning animation.

The Swan Princess’s songs were catchy but the lyrics were forced and kind of ridiculous. It felt like they were grasping at straws for rhymes and at some points I even cringed. These are songs that may stay in your head for a few hours but that you’ll be hard-pressed to remember or care about later on. The best song was “This is My Idea” for the simple fact that it showed the progression of Odette and Derek over time and their blossoming romance. Interestingly enough, Liz Callaway performed the singing voice for both Odette and Anastasia. Both films have fun songs but when it comes to pure talent, Anastasia wins hands down.

Point: Anastasia 

direction

Direction:

By the end of the film Anastasia has remembered who she is and has been reconnected with her grandmother, the Dowager Empress. She defeats Rasputin in an epic battle scene and goes off with Dimitri, her true love, with promises of visiting her grandmother soon. The story had great flow and direction and the climax was as epic as any animated film. Anastasia offers plenty of epic action scenes, stunning musical numbers, and witty dialogue. It may be a story that isn’t generally thought of as child-like but the creators managed to take an intriguing mystery and turn it into a beautiful film that is enjoyable for all ages and has some of the best animation and most memorable songs of any animated film.

The Swan Princess has a standard story direction which worked well. In the end they defeat Rothbart and live happily ever after. The Swan Princess is based on Swan Lake, one of the most famous and loved fairy tales of all time. It has a standard prince rescues princess from evil enemy tale mixed in with catchy tunes and fun side characters. The Swan Princess is definitely a fun animated film to watch but in the end, it simple can’t compete with Anastasia.

Point: Anastasia 

Winner: Anastasia!