Anastasia, a Russian princess, tries her luck at saving her slain family through an unexpected journey across a time portal.
After a sudden attack on the Romanovs (Russian royalty) by revolutionaries in 1917, Anastasia, a royal princess, manages to escape through a time portal. Her introduction into a new era helps her navigate emotions and gives an impetus to correct all the wrongs that fate thrust upon her.
When Armando Gutierrez's announced his film on Anastasia Romanov and juxtaposed it with time travel, it’d always be a recipe for disaster. Based on the Russian royal clan of the Romanovs, the film begins in 1917, where a young Anastasia (Emily Carey) tries to navigate a world post the fall of the monarchy.
The film begins with a conversation between Anastasia and her best friend Rasputin. She confesses to him that she wished all the land’s underprivileged could be part of the ongoing grand ball. Within moments he spins his magic and spruces up a bunch of orphans into shmancy clothes and invites them into the ball. The discrepancy of the event aside, Anastasia is saved by Rasputin moments later, when the revolutionaries attack the palace grounds. He opens up a time portal that allows her to escape. Through a bit of ill luck, Anastasia’s family gets left behind and she is the only one who crosses the portal and finds herself in the year 1989. She promptly befriends a girl named Megan, who through a serendipitous turn of events, turns out to be a history nerd who wishes to read up on the Romanovs.
Thus begins an odd depiction of Anastasia’s tryst with modern times. More than a temporally displaced princess, she behaves like an otherworldly being who gasps and gapes at swings and spaghetti, both of which were undoubted fixtures back in ’89. Anastasia’s self-introduction as Annie does little to conceal the fact that Megan’s book on the Russian royalty has an exact picture of the young princess (yet another fact that the makers choose to conveniently not address).
As the film slips into the second half, the plotline becomes paper-thin. Anastasia and Megan begin their coked-up Disney holiday where nothing can ever go wrong. From the girls gate-crashing a pop star’s event to Anastasia donning the latest ‘80s fashion, the two girls are just a bundle of good luck and striking fortune. Meanwhile, Rasputin follows his best friend into the portal and meets a starkly different reality. He struggles to get by and learn the basics of the then-modern life like riding a public bus. Rasputin’s adventures even place him smack in the middle of a theatre adventure where he is cast as the antagonist. Not just that, he even shimmies to ‘80s musical tracks.
Yet another loophole later, you suddenly realise Rasputin’s desperation to find Anastasia has died down and he is more than glad to be enjoying his personal journey. This is followed by a quick revelation that the Russian revolutionaries (circa 1917) have spun a bizarre spell on him in order to use him as a pawn to capture Anastasia. This extra plot twist thrusts the storyline into a weaker space where it begins bordering on the unbelievable.
Anastasia suffers from Disney’s need to pander to a global audience by maybe including “diverse” narratives that involve Russian history. But what the makers completely ignore, is the need to sound and be authentic. Dodgy dialogues, shoddy plotlines and uninteresting characters later, Anastasia just remains a ginormous waste of time.
Verdict: Adding to Disney’s list of inane princess stories, Anastasia: Once Upon a Time does little to either build an interesting narrative or stand as a sincere attempt at depicting the rich legacy of Russian politics.