Self-Esteem and Body Image
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Women
Gender Roles – Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 4 Stars
Anya wears the same torn yellow dress and hides her unkempt hair under an old hat for most of the film. She does go through a number of costume changes near the end of the film, with her dresses increasing in sophistication and elegance at every turn. But despite this focus on royalty and finery, it’s refreshing to see that Anya goes as long as she does in her own, ragged clothing. And that both Dimitri, and audiences, are expected to fall in love with her before she’s transformed into the Grand Duchess - when she is nothing more than a shabby orphan with a dream.
Supporting Characters: 3 Stars
Anastasia contains two additional female characters that are worthy of mention. Sophie, the first cousin of the Dowager Empress, is a large woman who is still portrayed in a charming and appealing manner. Her personality is a bit exaggerated and comical, but this doesn’t prevent her from capturing the heart and imagination of Dimitri’s friend Vladimir.
The Dowager Empress is also a rare and impressive figure. She’s an old woman, but doesn’t fall into the stereotypical role of a grandmother. She is elegant and commanding and clever enough to see through the frauds that have been brought before her time and time again. She doesn’t hesitate to call out Dimitri for the con-artist that he is, choosing to break an old woman’s heart in exchange for money. The surprising inclusion of these two women add variety and dimension to an otherwise stock and predictable cast of characters.
Gender Roles - Women: 3 Stars
Anya is a snappy and confident young woman, but she can also be confrontational to no apparent end. Her personality is mainly expressed through her flirtatious bickering with Dimitri, which sometimes comes across as more mean than playful. She’s certainly brave and strong-willed, but a brash and snarky heroine isn’t always a substitute for depth of character.
Gender Roles: 3 Stars
Dimitri is a fairly predictable sort of hero. He’s a con-man with a troubled past who is looking for easy money. He also proves to be resourceful and brave when necessary, and in time, he learns that love is more powerful than wealth. This same storyline has been recycled a million different ways - The handsome and selfish stranger turns out to have a heart of gold underneath his arrogance. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this concept, it’s overdone and can create some unrealistic expectations for young girls - who may end up chasing after ego-driven men who will never turn into charming princes.
Unfortunately, Anastasia ignores the issues of class structure surrounding the story. Dimitri is portrayed as selfish and calloused because of his plans to fool the Dowager Empress. But Dimitri has also been poor for a long time and his prospects are limited. Anastasia doesn’t dig into the complications of wealth inequality, so we’re left with a simplified story in which the Dowager Empress is simply a kind old woman and Dimitri has little justification for his actions. Had the film devoted any time to the Romanov’s excess, or Dimitri’s struggles, his character might be less of a caricature.
Plot: 2 Stars
Anastasia is yet another story of an orphan girl who is truly a princess beneath her tattered clothes. But unlike Cinderella or Snow White, there is a touch of deception in Anya’s journey from the orphanage to the palace. She claims that her only intention is to find out if she truly is a part of the Romanov family, and yet she agrees to participate in Dimitri’s coaching - learning to walk and speak like a princess and memorizing the family lineage in the hopes of proving that she is royalty. Anya may not be aware of the reward money, and seems genuinely hurt and appalled when she finds out about Dimitri’s plan to fool the Dowager Empress, but it's a bit disingenuous to insist that she was entirely innocent in the grand charade.
To her credit, Anya does defend herself when she is attacked by the evil Rasputin. Dimitri comes to her rescue, but he is injured during the fray and Anya is forced to defeat the ancient mystic on her own, - amazing dress and all. While Rasputin was never a truly terrifying nemesis, it’s still encouraging to see a female protagonist take an active role in defeating her own villain.
Character Development: 2 Stars
It’s unfortunate that Anya has so little background or dimension to her, or this could have been a truly powerful film. As the story opens, Anya is told that she has a job waiting for her at the fish market and sets off towards the rest of her life with a difficult choice to make. She can head towards the fish market, accepting the lonely, drudgery that awaits her and the rest of Russia’s orphans - or she can try to make her way to Paris to find the family that she’s lost. We know nothing about Anya’s life in the orphanage. We see her waving goodbye to friends as she sets off, and we can imagine that she talked with them about finding her family. That she and the other girls played dress up when they were young, possibly pretending to be the lost princess Anastasia. We can assume that Anya had fears of going out into the world - about earning her own living and how people might treat an orphan with no family. But Anastasia doesn’t explore any of this rich history, and we’re left with a relatively flat heroine on a predictable journey.
Love: 3 Stars
The love story between Anya and Dimitri would be far more convincing if Anya had just a bit more warmth to her character. The two argue all the way to Paris - which Vladimir interprets as “hidden attraction.” But the film never really shows us how Dimitri and Anya move past this antagonistic phase of their relationship. Anya treats Dimitri pretty roughly, criticizing his ideas and even hitting him a few times. She doesn’t apologize or seem to appreciate him, and it’s difficult to pinpoint what makes Dimitri fall in love with her - other than the allure of a new dress and a sunset waltz to a pretty song.
At one point, Anya does try to have a serious conversation with Dimitri about leaving his home in St. Petersburg - but he bluntly tells her that St. Petersburg was never his home and ends the conversation.
Unfortunately, we never learn anything more about Dimitri’s past. It’s possible that he’s also an orphan who's lost his family in the unrest that killed the Romanovs. Or that he’s just a touch envious of Anya’s amnesia and her ability to forget things that he can’t get out of his mind. Unfortunately, we can only guess, because Anya never asks him again. Dimitri never asks about life in the orphanage or talks to her about feeling like you’re unwanted or you don’t belong. Since none of these feelings are expressed, their romance comes across as lukewarm and contrived.
Family: 2 Stars
Perhaps the most difficult moment to dissect is the final scene when Anya relinquishes her crown to elope with Dimitri. While it’s endearing to think of Anya walking away from the princess racket in search of true love, the ending is a bit more complicated - because she also walks away from the family she’s been searching for for so long. She disappears without even saying goodbye to her grandmother, simply leaving behind a note and her crown. This might have been a more meaningful moment if Anya's relationship with Dimitri ran a bit deeper, and if she wasn’t giving up so much to be with him. But the way the ending plays out, Anya impulsively walks away the moment she discovers who she is - and doesn't seem nearly as interested in rebuilding the family she's lost.