Archive for April, 2024



My second weekend movie was Frozen II, which I was revisiting after rewatching the first one. I realized why it feels more like a fantasy movie to me than a Disney princess movie: It’s basically a Norwegian fantasy film. Not that I have a large sample size, but it’s a lot like the ones I’ve seen. Part of it is the scenery and costumes and the use of Norwegian folklore elements. The stone giants look a lot like the mountain trolls in the Norwegian movies (the ones we see when they play “Hall of the Mountain King” on the soundtrack). Plus, the movies all seem to have the ordinary guy who ends up on an adventure with a spunky princess. All it’s missing are the Denmark vs. Norway jokes.

Structurally, they do something interesting, with a kind of protagonist hand-off. Elsa gets to be the protagonist in this one. She gets the “I Want” song with “Into the Unknown,” and then has the story goal of setting things right with the elemental spirits. But late in the movie, she essentially passes the baton to her sister to do the final push, so we’re back to Anna having to do the hard part to set things right, but then Elsa gets to step in for the very final thing to save the day.

I think one reason this one feels more like a fantasy movie than a Disney princess movie is the way the romance is handled. Kristoff’s proposal plans are part of the story, but the story isn’t really a romance. The first one fit my romantic journey structure, but this one doesn’t, and Anna and Kristoff are separated for much of the movie. The story is mostly about the journeys Elsa and Anna are on.

The autumn setting may be one reason I like the sequel better than the original, but I also get emotional at the part where Anna essentially loses all hope but makes herself keep going and “do the next right thing.” Plus, Kristoff gets a song (It was insane in the first one to cast Jonathan Groff and have him just sing a couple of lines, most of them in a funny reindeer voice). On the whole, though, I think the music is a bit weaker in the sequel. The songs are okay in context, but there’s nothing that really stands alone. The only musical bit I remember is the line “into the unknooooown.”

I don’t know what I’m going to watch this weekend. I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for. I’ll need to relax after a busy day of packing.

I found out this morning that I’m moving in a week and a half (yikes!), so posting will be somewhat on hiatus for a week or so. I’d been thinking about moving, but then it all fell together really fast when I found and got an apartment, and now the movers are available earlier than I expected. I’m going to be frantically sorting and packing, and then I’ll be in transit, and I don’t know how long it will be until I get in the new place and have Internet access again.


The Amazing Maurice

Last weekend, I watched the animated movie version of The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, the Terry Pratchett book, and it was delightful. It’s been a long time since I read the book, so I can’t say how precisely the movie sticks to the book, but it felt right. There wasn’t much that jumped out at me that made me say, “Hey, that didn’t happen like that!” I think there were some things missing, but that always happens when translating book to movie.

In case you aren’t familiar with this one, it’s a standalone book set in the Discworld universe, aimed at an older child/young adult audience. I think the main human characters are preteen/very early teens, but the reading level would be pretty advanced for middle-grade readers (though it’s hard for me to judge, since I was reading adult books when I was nine, but I still read children’s books now). It’s a spin on the Pied Piper story. A cat (Maurice) and a group of rats have gained sentience, intelligence, and the ability to talk, thanks to proximity to the magical university. They’ve teamed up, along with an orphan kid, to create a kind of Pied Piper scam. The rats invade a town and make people think there’s an infestation, then the kid shows up with his flute to lead the rats away, for payment. But then they come upon a town that has no local rats and something fishy going on, and they dig into it, with the help of the mayor’s daughter, who’s read way too many books and expects the world to work like a story.

One thing the movie version has going for it is perfect casting. In particular, there’s Hugh Laurie as Maurice the cat, and there’s David Tennant as one of the lead rats, an albino who seems weak but who’s the most clever, and Emilia Clarke plays the spunky, brainy, but still a bit ditzy, mayor’s daughter.

The animation reminds me of the Despicable Me movies in the way the characters are depicted, but the backgrounds remind me of Disney fairy tale movies.

This movie was made and released during the pandemic, so it sort of fell under the radar. I don’t recall seeing anything about it playing around here. At least, it didn’t get a review in the local newspaper. I found it on hoopla, the library streaming service, and was able to check it out. It’s a fun fairytale retelling with a twist/talking animal movie. And it’s an adaptation of a book I liked that doesn’t make me angry. You don’t have to be familiar with Discworld to follow it, but there are a few Easter eggs thrown in that fans of that series will spot.


Old Clothes

I’ve been doing a big closet purge over the past couple of weeks. I haven’t drastically changed size over the past few decades, so most of my old clothes still fit (though some fit better than others or fit differently). That makes it a little harder to know what to get rid of. I’ve been forcing myself to put on clothes and be honest with myself about whether I would wear these things again. It’s like playing the home version of that What Not to Wear show, in which they’d ambush a fashion victim, haul her entire wardrobe to their studio, make her show off her favorite outfits, then tell her what was wrong with what she was wearing and what she should wear instead before going through her existing wardrobe and tossing all the things that didn’t work. Alas, I’m skipping the shopping spree and makeover that came after that step.

I think the bulk of what I’m getting rid of will end up being my old suits. In my first job out of college, I was working in the public information office at a medical school. We dealt with the school administration, major donors (basically the city’s social elite), and the media. On a given day, we might end up sitting in a meeting with a dean or vice president, escorting a news crew to an interview, or interviewing a civic leader about their latest donation. That meant this was not a casual office environment. The policy was that we had to dress every day as though we might have to meet with the university president. Unfortunately, my salary didn’t really support the kind of wardrobe the job required, so I had a pretty big wardrobe of relatively cheap suits, things I bought on sale at Casual Corner or The Limited, with the occasional bargain clearance item from a department store.

Most of the time, this wasn’t too obvious, since doctors, scientists, and reporters aren’t necessarily known for their style. My suits looked pretty sharp, even if they didn’t come with a designer label. There was the occasional awkward moment. For instance, there was the day the president’s assistant called over to our office to see if any women in the office were available to go to a luncheon. It was one of those society “ladies who lunch” events as a fundraiser for one of the departments (there was a “friends of” organization) and they had some last-minute cancellations, so they were trying to fill the empty seats. It happened to be a day when I’d worn my favorite suit, a Chanel-style black-and-white houndstooth number, so I was feeling pretty confident.

Until I got to the event and found that the “entertainment” during the luncheon, before the speaker, was going to be a Chanel fashion show. There I was in a suit that was obviously meant to look like the Chanel style, but very obviously didn’t have the logo on the buttons.

And then I realized that the woman I’d been seated with was Margot Perot (wife of H. Ross). I was a little intimidated at first, but she turned out to be very nice and actually kind of funny. The fashion show was the sort of thing in which the models walked around the room during lunch and stopped at each table to explain their outfits. Fortunately, it was the resort collection, so there were no suits to stand in sharp contrast to my fake Chanel suit. Mrs. Perot and I ended up snarking about some of the crazier outfits together. Even better, the swag bag left at each place contained a full-size bottle of Chanel No. 5 cologne. That more than doubled my pay for the day.

But when I put on that suit now, I feel like I should be on the field playing linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys. All my suits from that time have giant shoulder pads. I have great memories of wearing those suits and how grown-up they made me feel, but I can admit to myself that I will never wear them again. Even if I have an occasion to wear a suit, I wouldn’t wear one of these.

Next, I need to cull dresses and skirts. I have a lot of dresses and skirts I love that still fit and that look good on me, but I need to be honest with myself about how many I need. When I go to church, I’m usually in the choir and wearing a robe, so I don’t dress up too much. I like to wear skirts and dresses for conventions, but I haven’t been to one since the pandemic, and I don’t wear the more structured dresses for that sort of thing. I usually bring something knit that I can throw in a suitcase. I may force myself to pare the collection down to a dressy little black dress, a dress suitable for funerals, and a few dresses suitable for weddings/concerts/the theater.

I also have a good-sized collection of formal or cocktail dresses, thanks to years of writing conferences that included formal banquets. Some of them are clearly out of style, but a few still look good. I might as well keep a couple because I’d rather not have to buy another formal if an occasion arose. I still have my senior prom dress, but it doesn’t look very “80s prom,” so I’ve actually worn it a few times (admittedly, at least one of those times was a “flashback prom” costume party).

One thing that’s helping with this process is keeping in mind the life I want to have. Late last year, as part of a class on goal setting and scheduling, I did an exercise in which I imagined what my ideal life and an ideal day in that ideal life would look like. The idea was to help set goals that will lead to that life and focus on projects and tasks that lead to that life, but it also helps here. Does it fit? Does it look good? Do I feel good in it? And would I wear this in my ideal life?

Forcing myself to put on these old clothes has really brought back memories. I have to admit that I kind of liked dressing up for work, though I also like that I get to wear sweatpants or shorts and t-shirts now. Speaking of t-shirts, that’s another collection I need to purge. I could probably wear a different shirt every day for a month, but I got so many of these through special events, so they’re souvenirs in addition to being clothing. I’ve heard the suggestion to make a quilt out of them, but I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t use such a quilt (my grandmother made quilts, so I already have a quilt collection). I may take pictures, then donate them.



Thanks to one of those mental rabbit trails in which something I saw reminded me of something else, which reminded me of something else, and so forth, I ended up rewatching Frozen a couple of weekends ago. I saw it at the theater and thought it was good, but I didn’t fall into the utter obsession that this movie inspired. I was teaching kindergarten choir at the time, and the kids couldn’t get enough of it. The girls all wanted to be Elsa and the boys were all in love with Elsa (or, as one kid put it, “She’s bootiful. I want her to be my mommy.”). I think some of the ubiquity of it may have soured my view on the movie. I actually like the sequel better. But it actually is a nicely structured movie that has a lot going for it.

Spoilers ahead in case you managed to avoid the mania.

One interesting thing I found was that although Elsa seemed to be the focus of all the hype and was the favorite character, she’s not the protagonist. She doesn’t really have a story goal and doesn’t do a lot. She’s more of a catalyst who sets off the story. Anna is the protagonist (and I feel like the only person who identifies with and likes Anna more than Elsa. Team Anna here!). She’s the one with the story goal and with the story arc. She’s also the one with the more clearly articulated internal or personal goals.

We see that when she’s the one who gets the “I Want” song. In fact, she gets two. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is about her desire to reconnect with her sister, and then “For the First Time in Forever” is about her desire to make connections with other people after having been locked away for so long. Much of her internal tension in the story is because her desire to reconnect with her sister is often in conflict with her desire to connect with other people, since it’s difficult for her to have both. She gets a lot of criticism from her sister and later Kristoff for getting engaged to a man she just met, but it comes out in her song that she believes the coronation day is the one day the gates will be open and she’ll be allowed to have contact with the outside world. Because of that, she has to get engaged that day. She can’t take it slow if she’s going to be shut away after that day. If he doesn’t stay with her or she doesn’t go with him, something unlikely to happen without an engagement, she’ll never see him again. Not that I think she’s making the right choice, especially given how he turned out, but under those circumstances, she doesn’t have a lot of options if she doesn’t want to be utterly alone.

I do have to question the decision-making by their parents. Even if Elsa needed to be isolated to keep the secret of her powers and Anna couldn’t be around her lest she remember and it set off the freezing thing in her head again, why did Anna have to be isolated, too? Couldn’t she have been allowed to interact with other kids and leave the castle? Or would that have risked the people rallying around Anna rather than Elsa as the future queen? I feel like the treatment of Anna came close to child abuse. Elsa’s treatment was also pretty cruel, but at least she knew what was going on and understood why. Anna got no explanation why suddenly she was shut away and her sister refused to have anything to do with her.

Anna’s the one who gets the story goal, which dovetails with her personal goals, when Elsa’s powers go haywire and she freezes the kingdom. Anna’s story goal becomes to get through to Elsa and get her to thaw things — which, in turn, would reconcile Anna to Elsa and reconnect the kingdom. This is what makes her the protagonist. Elsa doesn’t really want anything other than to be left alone. She’s not trying to do or get anything, and she doesn’t really take any action.

Meanwhile, the story also fits my “fantasy road trip” structure. We get the Bargain between Kristoff and Anna in which she convinces him to help her get to Elsa by paying for his supplies and by reminding him that he won’t be able to sell ice until the kingdom thaws. There’s bickering over his manners and her impulsive engagement. They face attack from the wolves and then later from Elsa and her snowman, which leads to them bonding after they have to work together to survive. After that, there’s the “Fixer Upper” number, which serves as a Dance scene, although they don’t dance together (I’m thinking of renaming that stage “the Moment” because the dancing is usually about the pair having a Moment in which they start to be aware of their feelings toward each other, and it doesn’t always involve dancing). There’s the Departure when she goes to Hans for the True Love’s Kiss that will save her and Kristoff leaves her behind. But then there’s the Return in which Kristoff comes back and Anna, having learned what Hans is really up to, sees that Kristoff has come back and goes to him. This part of my outline is always a bit tricky. You’d think that it would be the protagonist departing because of making the wrong choice, then realizing the error of their ways and returning, but often the roles switch and it’s the other character who has to make the decision. Here, it seems to be mutual, since Anna goes to be with Hans and Kristoff lets her go, then they both realize their feelings and are going back to be with each other—but then the resolution here isn’t romantic because she has to go to Elsa’s rescue before she can reach Kristoff.

I’m still not entirely sure what about this story struck such a strong nerve with kids. I think a lot of it had to do with Elsa’s ice princess outfit and her big power ballad that was all about independence and freedom. I think kids also react to that feeling like everyone’s out to get you and no one understands you, which is what Elsa’s story is all about. She’s simultaneously powerful and a victim, so she represents something you might aspire to while also being someone you can relate to. I seem to react strongly to stories about isolation and abandonment, so I sympathize more with Anna, and I would rather wear her more Norwegian-type outfits than Elsa’s slinky dress. There’s just enough romance in the story to give it a spark, but it’s more about the relationship between the sisters, which is probably more relatable to little kids. That makes it less “yucky” to boys who don’t want romance in their stories.

I may have to rewatch the second one this weekend and see if I can analyze it for structure. It strikes me as being more of an animated fantasy movie than a “Disney Princess” movie.

I will say that I get some cognitive dissonance from hearing “King George” after having seen the Hamilton movie a few times and from having watched The Good Place (I keep waiting for Anna to say something like “holy forking shirtballs.”).


When You Wish

Last weekend, I watched the new (ish — it just came to Disney+ but was in theaters last year) Disney movie, Wish, and I’m sad to say that it was rather meh. It wasn’t bad, but the story had the feel of something written by the marketing team to promote the studio’s anniversary. It was like they were trying to check off boxes as they paid tribute to their history, and they wrote a story that loosely linked together everything they wanted to do, leading up to the punchline of the post-credits scene. It looks gorgeous and the cast is great, but I actually forgot that I’d seen it a day later.

I think a big part of the problem is that the basis for the story doesn’t make a lot of sense. There’s a wizard king who’s created some kind of utopia by having citizens hand over their wishes to him when they turn 18, and he’s to keep them safe, then he grants a few wishes every year, making them come true. I have so many questions here, most of which are asked when the townspeople start asking questions to stall for time. The big one is why anyone would do this in the first place. Once they hand over their wish, they don’t even remember having it, which means that they aren’t discontented from wanting something they don’t have or disappointed from trying and failing, but it also leaves them a bit empty. Then there’s the fact that wishes change. What I wished for when I was 18 has nothing to do with what I want now. I could have handed that wish over without missing it even just a few years later, and then I’d have had an entirely new wish.

Anyway, when a young woman who’s applying to be the king’s intern questions this system and asks for her grandfather’s wish to be granted, that freaks out the king. Then she wishes really hard on a star and the star comes down and starts making magic happen, which makes the king feel threatened, so he tries to stamp out this other magic. Seriously, I didn’t get what was going on here at all. In spite of a really talented cast giving it their all (Chris Pine was having way too much fun), the songs are pretty weak. I was thinking during the movie that Lin-Manuel Miranda was having a really off day, but it turns out someone else did the music, so I guess they were trying for Lin-Manuel and missing.

One thing I really liked was that our heroine had a whole group of friends, something we don’t usually see in Disney movies. The more typical Disney heroine maybe hangs around with a couple of cute animals, but she doesn’t have a peer group. Some of that is baked into the fairy tales the movies are based on. Aurora is in hiding, Belle and Rapunzel are captives (and Belle is a weirdo outsider even before she finds the Beast), Mulan is Not Like Other Girls, and the Cinderella story wouldn’t work if her squad of kids of other wealthy merchants and minor gentry got their parents involved on her behalf. But even in the “original” stories, the heroines are rather isolated. Frozen is a story about isolation and Mirabel in Encanto has her sisters and cousins, but the local kids who hang around her are all little kids, not a peer group.

I’m curious if this is a deliberate choice or just something that happened without anyone thinking about it. Most writers tend to be the weirdo outsider type, so it’s natural for them to write that kind of character. It’s also a lot easier to write a loner than to try to juggle all the characters you get in a friend group. Plus, it’s easier to get your characters in trouble if they don’t have backup.

But this movie has the heroine as part of a group of friends, and they all team up to support her when she’s in trouble, which has a lot to do with saving the day, and even though I’m definitely part of the Weirdo Outsider demographic, it was nice to see that.

Chris Pine and Ariana DeBose deserved a lot better, so I hope they get another chance at doing voices for animation. Alan Tudyk seems to be required by law to do voices for all Disney movies (though in this one he actually got to talk instead of just squawking or making animal sounds, and he got parts of a song) so I’m less worried about him getting another chance.



I was lucky enough to be in the path of totality for the eclipse, but I was worried because the forecast was for clouds. Fortunately, the clouds mostly dissipated right before the eclipse began. There were wisps drifting in and out, but the clouds parted for totality.

And I have to say, that was one of the most awesome things I’ve ever experienced. It was early afternoon, but it was like night. The street lights came on. I could see what I later learned were Venus and Jupiter. It got a lot colder all of a sudden. I went to the neighborhood park across the street, and a number of other people from the neighborhood were also there. A cheer went up when totality occurred. I had my Walkman radio on, since the classical radio station had a special playlist. As the eclipse was starting, they played Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, music from Close Encounters and ET, and stuff like that (watching the sun go dark during the Close Encounters music was eerie). As totality approached, they played a lovely version of Clair de Lune. Then as totality happened, they played the “Sunrise” fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra, aka the 2001 theme. That was absolutely perfect.

I didn’t take any pictures of the eclipse itself because I don’t have the equipment for that and I wanted to focus on the moment, but this was what the world looked like during totality. It’s hard to believe this was about 1:43 in the afternoon on a mostly sunny day.

This looks like a nighttime photo of a pond and a bridge. The streetlights are on, casting an eerie light. But it's about 1:42 in the afternoon, during totality of the solar eclipse.
This isn’t a nighttime view. It’s 1:42 in the afternoon, during totality of the eclipse.

One thing that struck me was how light it got the moment a sliver of sun reappeared. It was still sort of dim and twilight-looking, but it was still noticeably daytime, not the night of totality.

Now, of course, I find myself wanting to work an eclipse into a fantasy novel. It was a magical moment, so it seems like a time when magic can happen. I know it’s kind of a cliche, especially the whole loophole in a “night and day at the same time” sort of curse (like in the movie Ladyhawke) but sometimes the cliches happen because something is true.


The Romance Formula

My analysis of Anastasia made me think about my romance “formula,” especially since I’m currently revising a book with a romantic arc, so I’ve been analyzing that story.

By formula, I mean boiling it down to the very basics. To have a romantic story, you need to have a reason for the characters to get together. There has to be some kind of attraction or interest somewhere along the way or there’s not much of a romance. And you need to have something keeping them apart, at least temporarily, or else there’s not much of a story. If the characters just meet, like each other, and get together, that’s great for real life but not a good story. What kind of attraction and conflict you have depends on the kind of story you’re telling.

The conflict can come in a variety of ways:
Internal to the characters — one or both characters have some kind of internal issue that keeps them from being up for any relationship, and they have to get past this in order to get together with anyone, no matter how attracted or interested they are. This is where you get the “I’ve been hurt before and don’t want to risk my heart again” story, as in the guy in Leap Year, or the “chasing the wrong person because of a wonky idea of what love really is” story, as in Stardust, where Tristan (in the movie) is obsessed with the local mean girl, which keeps him from being able to see that Yvaine may be the right person for him. Or it’s the person who’s focused on the wrong goal, such as Flynn/Eugene in Tangled, who has to figure out that his life of crime isn’t going to make him happy if he’s alone. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast has to get his act together and find his inner humanity before he can love and be loved.

Between the characters — there’s something that puts the characters at odds with each other. They may belong to different factions so they see each other as enemies or they may have a personality clash. This one is a big reason why I don’t generally get my love stories from romance novels, since this is a big focus of the romance genre. When I was trying to write romances, I kept hearing “if he’s a firefighter, make her an arsonist” from editors. They wanted CONFLICT. My issue with that is that if the conflict is so big, why would they even bother? If I meet someone I hate, I move on and find someone I don’t hate. This sometimes requires contrivance to keep them in proximity long enough for them to fall in love.

It can work, though. This is what Pride and Prejudice is all about. They have a big personality clash because they make incorrect assumptions about each other. I think the trick to making this kind of thing work is making the conflict something they can move past by growing and changing or getting to know each other better. If it’s just a basic personality clash, it’s harder to believe in the relationship working out in the long run. Why be with someone who just annoys you and sees the world in a totally different way than you do? I find it hard to believe that a firefighter would ever be happy with an arsonist. Even if she realized the error of her ways and changed, would he be able to get past the fact that her actions had put his colleagues in danger by creating fires they had to fight? He’d want her to face justice. For the same reasons, I have a hard time with enemies-to-lovers stories, unless it’s someone who’s been brought up in an enemy culture without knowing better, and once they learn the truth or get to know someone from the other side they choose to change sides — like the princess in Willow.

The outside world/circumstances against the characters — even if they don’t have internal issues they have to get over and even if they don’t have conflicts with each other, there’s something in their circumstances keeping the characters from being able to be together. This would be your Romeo and Juliet/West Side Story type of situation, where they’re from opposing factions but don’t really have any issues with each other. It’s just all the people in their lives who are tearing them apart. Or there’s something like The Terminator, where they don’t really clash, but they can’t be happy together while a killer robot from the future is relentlessly pursuing them. I used this in my Rebels series, where the rules of society mean they can’t be together — so for them to be together, they have to change society. On the lighter side, this is the conflict in While You Were Sleeping. They get along great and seem to be made for each other. The thing keeping them apart is the fact that everyone thinks she’s engaged to his brother. Remove that obstacle, and they’re fine. This is the kind of conflict we often see when there’s a love story in some other kind of story, where they gradually fall in love along the way as they do other stuff, and it’s the other stuff keeping them from just being together. Once the quest is done and they’re out of danger, then they can explore a relationship.

It’s pretty common for there to be a combination of these in a story. They may start at odds with each other, then overcome their differences as they go through stuff, but then they still have external stuff keeping them apart and personal issues they need to deal with. The interpersonal conflict can be caused by the personal issues. Think Tangled — her issue is that she’s being gaslit in an abusive relationship with her captor who’s pretending to be her mother and she needs to find her independence. His issue is that he’s compensating for being a poor orphan by stealing to get enough money to be comfortable and being loyal only to himself. He dislikes her because she’s forcing him to escort her to the celebration, so he’s trying to make things as unpleasant as possible so she’ll give up, which puts them at odds. They get over the interpersonal conflict as they get to know each other and find themselves dealing with the external issue of the guards and his former allies coming after them. Then they both have to get past their personal issues to prevail against her “mother.”

The other side of the equation is the attraction, and I think that’s where a lot of stories fall flat because the writers are so busy building up the conflict that they forget about why they might want to be together other than that they’re both attractive. The stronger the conflict, the deeper the attraction needs to be because they need to have a reason to push past the conflict, and too many romances don’t deal with that well or focus on the physical attraction — the “I hate him, but my traitorous body can’t resist him” thing.

That’s where I think Anastasia didn’t work. There was all that bickering, then he saw her in a nice dress and it was love. Why did he come to love her enough that he was willing to give up everything so she could be happy? We never saw any reason why she loved him, other than her later learning that he didn’t take the reward. That’s nice, but it’s not something to base a relationship on. This was why I liked While You Were Sleeping, on the other hand. We got some nice conversations in which we saw that they had shared values and interests, and they encouraged each other to pursue their dreams.

In the thing I’m working on, I know what brings them together, but I’m not sure I’ve shown it through their actions, so I’m trying to come up with scenes that illustrate their growing bond.


Rewriting History

Last weekend, I ended up rewatching the animated Anastasia (it was the result of a mental rabbit trail that started with a mention of a historical figure in something I saw elsewhere, and that led me to that era in history, so I decided to watch it), and that’s really a weird movie if you think about it. It’s absolutely gorgeous and has great music (though, oddly, has no romantic song in spite of there being a strong romantic plot), with musical numbers that are staged like they’re in a Broadway musical, right down to the characters holding their final poses as though they’re waiting for applause. But the plot is utterly bizarre and the love story has some lovely moments but has no connective tissue.

The plot is theoretically based on history, but they went far afield from what actually happened. I guess Disney did the same thing with Pocahontas, but in this case the events weren’t even a century old when the movie was made. There were people still alive who remembered these events. They were well-documented and even photographed. There were reasonably close relatives to these people who were still alive at that time (Prince Philip in England was a close enough relative that they used his DNA to identify the remains of the Romanovs, since he was related to Nicholas on his father’s side and Alexandra was his great aunt). Anastasia’s presence with the rest of the family when they were in captivity was documented. She wasn’t lost while they fled the palace. I know it would have been way too dark for a kids’ animated movie to have her crawl out from under the bodies of her family after they’d been shot and bayonetted, but they could have had her go missing some other way. Not to mention that she was a teen, not a child, at that time. Rasputin was actually quite friendly with the royal family. They were fond of him. In fact, that was the problem. The nobles didn’t like a commoner having that much influence, and it was other relatives who had him killed. I’ve read some in-depth biographies of him, and he wouldn’t have cursed the family or pursued them to their deaths (he did predict that the dynasty would fall within two years of his death if he was killed, but that wasn’t a curse, it was more of a concerned warning). And while the communist revolution was no picnic, it seems disrespectful to imply that everyone in Russia was happy living under the czar until Rasputin magically influenced them to revolt. Not to mention, the grandmother ended up in London, not Paris, since her sister was the dowager queen of England, and she later went to Copenhagen, since she was Danish (in spite of Angela Lansbury’s Russian accent in this movie).

If they were going to go so far afield from actual events, way beyond ordinary dramatic license, why not do the usual Disney thing and set the story they wanted to tell in some fantasy Fairytalelandia that was Not!Russia (the way Arendelle in Frozen was Not!Norway)? Then they could have gone nuts with it and made up everything. You could tell a story about a princess who was separated from her family and who lost her memory during some crisis and make up a really good villain with really good motives for pursuing her. Heck, if you’re making it all up, you could have a really happy ending in which she gets reunited with her family, who’ve been in exile, thinking she was dead.

The other thing that’s weird is the romance. There are some good moments, and it follows the usual romantic adventure pattern of bickering, then dealing with a crisis together, which leads to bonding, which leads to love, but it doesn’t really motivate or explain each step. They start bickering as soon as they’re on the train, and I have no idea why she was suddenly being extremely bitchy to him. She was getting exactly what she wanted, and I didn’t think he was being much of a jerk until she started being bitchy, and then he responded in kind and it escalated. To contrast, consider Tangled, which had a similar pattern of lost princess traveling with a criminal. They had bickering, but there was a reason behind it. She’d been brainwashed to think all outsiders were a threat and were after the power of her magical hair, she’d whacked him on the head repeatedly with an iron skillet, and she was holding his (stolen) belongings hostage to force him to take her to see the floating lights. Meanwhile, he was trying to discourage her from taking the trip by making the outside world seem scary so that he could escape the guards and his former allies. There was a good reason they were at odds with each other and disagreeing. In Anastasia, they’re both getting what they want out of the deal. No one’s being coerced. There’s absolutely no reason for them to be at odds. They didn’t even establish any personality or value differences that would explain it. They were just bickering because that’s what usually happens at this phase of this kind of story.

I think the casting of Meg Ryan doesn’t help here. At that point in her career she’d sort of fallen into a persona that was essentially the worst parts of Sally (“I want that on the side”). Or, as one reviewer said about her in one of her later rom-coms, “she seems to be in a permanent snit.” She spends the whole movie sounding somewhat annoyed and exasperated and very much like Meg Ryan.

They have the crisis when they have to work together to escape the runaway train, but it doesn’t lead to a bonding moment. They’re still bickering. There’s a musical number involving him and his sidekick training her to be a princess as they travel, but there’s no direct interaction between Anya and Dmitri. She’s interacting mostly with Vlad and pointedly snubbing Dmitri, who spends most of the number scowling in the background. There’s no point when they find common ground or talk and get to know each other (like the conversation in Tangled when he confesses his real name and backstory and she confesses that her hair is magical and explains her upbringing). Then he gives her a new dress, which she’s bitchy about, and he’s dancing with her as she’s being taught to waltz, which leads to a moment and an almost-kiss, which comes out of nowhere. Then there’s all his angst when he realizes she really is the princess, which means he can’t be with her, and they’re both willing to give up everything for each other, but they’ve never yet had a civil conversation or any kind of interaction that suggests that they have any connection at all. They’re in love because they’re in this movie together, and that’s it. Maybe that’s why there’s no romantic song. The closest is the one Vlad sings about them when he realizes they’re connecting and this could be trouble, and I guess that’s along the lines of what Disney was doing in that era. Instead of the characters singing to or about each other, they have a third party singing about them (like “Kiss the Girl” or “Beauty and the Beast”).

This is my pet peeve about bad rom-coms and romances. If there’s bickering, there needs to be a reason beyond just personality differences. It needs to be something situational or that can be changed as one or both learn and grow. If it’s just a personality difference, then they don’t have much hope for a relationship. And there needs to be a reason why they fall in love beyond just seeing each other in better clothes. What did they learn about each other that makes them bond and then fall in love?

Of course, now I’m trying to figure out if I could get away with a missing princess story that doesn’t look like Anastasia with the serial numbers rubbed off, but I just realized I have a lurking story fragment that gender flips it, with a prince who escaped. I wasn’t deliberately doing a take on Anastasia. Actually, I was creating a backstory for an undeveloped character in some other story, and it spun out of control to become a whole story that had nothing to do with that, as these things so often do for me.