With Christmas coming up, lots of people watch animated films, myself included, and in doing so I think I might have spotted an uncanny resemblance, that being that Princess and the Frog by Disney, and Anastasia by Don Bluth and 20th Centaury Fox seem to be very similar.
Both of these movies were very good, and are some of the best final animated movies of their respective decade, however, both didn’t do very well at the box office, and were both the final nails in the coffin for certain aspects of the animation industry, for Anastasia that was Don Bluth’s career, as it was one of the last movie’s he ever made, and for Princess and the Frog, that was Disney ever making a 2-D animated movie on the big screen, since that was the last major one that they did with a few minor exceptions.
But regardless of their impact in the real world, on a deep, fundamental level, they have very similar aspects to each other, which can be quite uncanny, and I shall go into why I think that.
Now in terms of plot details, the movies are somewhat different, but in terms of narrative structure, they are very similar, a young woman with dreams of finding her place in the world get’s accidently thrust into a situation that she didn’t see coming, and tags along with a dashing, but brash hero and comic relief as what is originally part of a ploy, but turns out to be her true calling in life, she meet opposition with an evil sorcerer who watchers her from the shadows, and aims to taker her and her friends out for some sort of personal goal, while his henchman reluctantly assists him, the heroes make it to where they originally planned to get to, and their initial goal seems to have been fulfilled, but through a misunderstanding, heir hero and heroine separate and distrust one another, at which point the villain rears his ugly head, and in the ensuing conflict, he is defeated and the misunderstandings are dealt with, and they all live happily ever after.
Now of course, you could argue that I’m over simplifying the plot to have it line up that like that, and that a lot of movies has this kind of story, not just these, and while it is true that the movie’s don’t completely line up exactly, in most the plot beats, they do, and while it’s true that not all of the details are exact, for example Tiana wishes to be a restaurateur, and Anastasia wished to find where her family was, so that is defiantly very different, and of course Tiana’s difficulties as a character are a less tangible issue of discrimination from being black in the deep south, whereas Anastasia is the last remaining member of a cursed bloodline, whist in a way could be seen as very similar, but one’s a more supernatural cause, and the other is more societal-based, so that also makes a big difference. But, where I think the movies really link up is their biggest flaw are the same: their way too complicated for their own good.
Both Anastasia and the Princess and the Frog suffered from stories that were way to over-complicated than they needed to be, over-loaded with technicalities, loop-holes and plot-holes, many of which could have been fixed by making the story simpler, now with Anastasia that would have been hard since the movie was ‘based’ on a true story (sort of), and the real events themselves were very complicated, so that would have been hard to fix, but I do think that both had a lot of things that could have been made a lot easier to understand, as both times I watched the movie, I couldn’t understand what was going on the first time, such as trying to keep up with all the technicalities of the curse of the two frogs and how they needed to come back to normal, whilst also being tied up with the character development, sub plots, comic relief and a totally-needed death scene, and with Anastasia it was the complexities of trying to understand how Rasputin’s curse worked, why the royal family betrayed him (while not taking into account real life historical backstories here, since the movie pretty much ignored the real person in that regard), Anya’s longing to remember her past life and also being hastily intercut with comic relic, action sequences and tons of other things that felt like tagged-on filler. But that’s not the only place the movie’s cross paths.
I feel that, for as good as they’re written, the characters in both movies are very similar. Both Anya and Tiana are strong-willed, self-driven women with and urge to find what their looking for in life, and while Anya is a bit more fragile; both take charge of their own destiny and defeat the true evil in the end. The Shadow Man and Rasputin are sorcerers bound by dark forces, who summon dark minions to do their bidding and are obsessed with rubbing out one person from their life to see their ultimate goal out, granted Shadow Man was more of a fast-talking con-man, and Rasputin was like a Power Rangers baddie, both do share a lot of similarities (including providing the best songs in their respective movies). Dmitri and Prince Navine are similar in both being down on their luck charming men who think they’ve found the quick fix to their problems in a girl that they’ve found, but find something much deeper in them (though it is kind of ironic the roles are reversed in each movie, with a princess and a beggar in Anastasia, and a prince and a waitress in Frog), and even some of the more minor characters are similar, such as Bartok and Lawrence being the reluctant foil in the villains plan, Empress Marie and Tiana’s mother as the down-to-Earth words of wisdom urging their daughters to prioritize love over other priorities, and even Vlad and Louis are similar in some minor ways.
I even think the music is comparable, in a slightly more subversive way. Naturally the style of music isn’t at all similar, as Anastasia went for very traditional fully-orchestrated Broadway-style musical numbers, and Princess and the Frog went for ragtime and early jazz to fit the environment of the film, however, ask anybody who’s watched Anastasia to name a song from it, and they’ll probably say either ‘In the Dark of the Night’ or ‘Once Upon a December’ which are the villain song, and the main reoccurring song. Similarly, Princess and the Frog’s most memorable songs are ‘Almost There’ and ‘Friends on the Other Side’ which both have the same kind of purpose in their movie, all the other songs in the movies (at least to me) aren’t that memorable, and feel rather generic, though both did manage to capture the feel and style of the movies location and time period, which ironically is around about the same time of the early 20th centaury, though they are almost on other sides of the world, but then again, Don Bluth already did a movie set in New Orleans with All Dogs go the Heaven, which also has comparisons to Princess and the Frog, but that’s a story for another day.
Now despite all these comparisons, there are still a lot of differences, Anastasia, being a Don Bluth movies (who, for those who are unaware, also made A Land Before Time, An American Tale, Secret of NIMH and also worked on Disney’s Pete’s Dragon and the Rescuers) is a lot more somber and has more fluent and realistic styled animation and tone (with the exception of the villain, who is extremely cartoonish), and the Princess and the Frog is a lot more consistently cartoonish and has more bouncy style of animation, even the main characters act very wild and comedic at times. And like I said earlier, both these movies sadly shared the same kind of reception upon release, though admittedly that was for completely different reasons, Princess and the Frog failed due to being a 2-D animated movie when CGI movies were all the rage (and still are) and Anastasia failed due to Disney re-releasing The Little Mermaid in theatres on the same weekend it premiered to cripple it’s release (no joke, that really happened).
Now, even though these comparisons could be seen as just mad ravings, and it’s not as if these two movies are the only films in existence that have these kinds of narratives and tropes in them, there could be a justifiable reason why these movies are similar. At the time Anastasia was released, Disney could be seen at the biggest it ever has been, but just starting to get into a bit of a decline, having just released Hercules that year, and soon raring up to release Bugs Life the next, both good movies, but weren’t very well received at the time, this is when other companies saw it was their chance to fill in the slot at take over Disney’s place, so when Don Bluth was hired to direct Anastasia, he was essentially told to make it as close to Disney as he could, but still different (which would make sense, given Bluth’s history with Disney) so the movie very much seems like the result of tons of charts and surveys about Disney being thrown into a movie, in a desperate attempt to emulate their style, and while it worked in being an enjoyable movie, it was a bit of a mess in that regard. Similarly, Princess and the Frog was made at a time where Disney was desperately trying to reboot their animation studios, since for close to 5 years, it had been shut down due to a majority of their animated movies from the last decade having been poorly received, relying on Pixar to do the animated stuff, while they focused more on their live-action portfolio, so when they decided to finally do a major animation motion picture again, it seemed like they threw everything at it to make it work, and in some cases it did, people do remember it, and it did decently, but it wasn’t a gigantic hit like many people were hoping it to be, and I suppose, in that regard, the movies really are like two peas in a pod, they tried to be the next best thing, but they just over did it a bit too much. Then again, Princess and the Frog never got a Broadway musical like Anastasia has now.