Stomping out their usual cuteness and carbon copying Disney's grand animation style to a T, directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman (An American Tail) create a successful musical comedy from the story of the lost Russian princess. Adapting the story of imperialism and revolution is tricky, and subsequently the film's opening is weak. Once Anya (voiced by Meg Ryan, sung by Liz Callaway) is a teenager and on her own (suffering from some degree of amnesia), the film is quite pleasing though never refreshingly new.
Twentieth Century Fox's big-money gamble to horn in on Disney's realm is worthy. The songs, especially the recurrent "Once Upon a December," by Broadway team Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty are better than Disney's recent efforts. It's worth picking up the soundtrack. The mix of cell animation and computer work is vivid. The collection of vocal talent is also strong, from John Cusack (as Dimitri, who wants to earn the reward by bringing Anya to Paris) to Hank Azaria as an amusing albino bat. Kelsey Grammer helps turn a roly-poly sidekick into a warm and strong supporting character.
The biggest drawback is Bluth/Goldman's insistence on having a typical villain. Surprisingly, the story would be strong enough without one, and the undead corpse of Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd) is unneeded and unoriginal. --Doug Thomas