The longtime knock against animated filmmaker Don Bluth ("An American Tail," "The Land Before Time") is that his movies are usually great-looking but just as often fall short in the story department.
Ironically, now that he has a decent story to work with (an adaptation of the film and stage play "Anastasia"), his latest isn't quite as good visually as his other efforts.
That's not to say that "Anastasia" isn't a handsome-looking cartoon. It's just that this musical-comedy-drama was filmed in Cinemascope, which makes some small technical deficiencies even more glaring.
For example, Bluth and his cohort Gary Goldman rely heavily on some computer animated effects that look jarring when compared to the otherwise smooth animation. And frankly, Bluth's style is too Disneyesque at times (he is a former Disney animator, after all).
One area where the film definitely isn't deficient is in its casting. Meg Ryan voices the title character, the sole surviving member of the Romanovs, Russia's imperial family. The orphaned teenager, now known as Anya, has no memory of who she is.
Meanwhile, her grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie (Angela Lansbury), is still hoping to find the girl. But it has left her vulnerable to crooks who are trying to pass off imposters as Anastasia to collect the reward money.
Two such con men, youngster Dimitri (John Cusack) and the corpulent Vladimir (Kelsey Grammer), actually find Anya, and noting her resemblance to the missing czarina, decide to take her with them to Paris as part of their plan to bilk the dowager empress.
On the way, Anya begins to remember bits of her past, while the cynical Dimitri is increasingly drawn romantically to the girl.
But Rasputin (Christopher Lloyd), the evil magician/monk whose sorcerous spell led to the Romanov's downfall, has also awakened and has renewed his vow to wipe out the last of Czar Nicholas' children.
Admittedly, the film plays fast and loose with historical fact, as well as the fictional source material. However, in comparison with Disney's "Pocahontas," this could be a documentary. Besides, the film's numerous rewrites (usually not a good sign) have actually yielded the right mix of humor, romance and action.
Of course, it wouldn't work without the fabulous cast. Ryan brings a fieriness to her role that we haven't seen (well, heard) from her in awhile, and Cusack is an able foil.
And the supporting talents (including Grammer, Lloyd and Lansbury) are almost as good, especially Hank Azaria (one of the voice talents from TV's "The Simpsons"), who nearly steals the whole thing as Bartok, Rasputin's albino bat assistant.
The original songs, written by Tony-winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens and composer Stephen Flaherty, are a little on the bland side, though they are ably performed by Grammer and Lansbury (as well as Liz Callaway and Jonathan Dokuchitz, who sing for Ryan and Cusack, respectively).
"Anastasia" is rated G, although there is some cartoon violence and brief gore.