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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Anastasia' Draws Ire, Not Crowds

Elegant couples dance in the golden mist of a Russian palace at a ball for the Romanovs. All is well until the dark figure of the evil Rasputin appears, cursing the tsar, his family and all of Russia. A revolution follows. Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Nicholas II, becomes separated from her beloved grandmother.

This sets off the plot of "Anastasia," a debut full-screen animated musical from Fox Animation Studios, which came to Moscow's Kodak Cinema World on Monday. The movie, which is fantasy, but based on real-life characters from Russian history, has drawn criticism for its blurring of fact and fiction.

For years, rumors existed that when the Romanovs were executed by a Bolshevik firing squad in 1918, Anastasia survived. Women claiming to be the tsar's daughter have cropped up around the globe.

The recent decision to bury the remains of the tsar's family has put the Romanovs on the minds of Russians, making viewers here particularly sensitive to the film's historical themes.

The movie's plot centers around Anastasia's grandmother's search for the girl. The Bolsheviks are scarcely mentioned, and Rasputin, an evil spirit and semi-corpse with dropping hands, eyeballs and other body parts, plays the role of the central villain. In the end, evil is destroyed, there is another ball in Paris, and Anastasia regains her lost memories and is reunited with grandmother.

Anastasia, which had its Russian premier in St. Petersburg, cost about $53 million, and its exclusive distributor in Russia, Gemini Film, hopes to lure at least 300,000 Russians to see it.

Kodak Cinema World has exclusive rights to show Anastasia in Moscow until March 26, but so far the animation has not been a big success here. By midafternoon Wednesday, only about 800 people had gone to see the movie.

But spring break in Russian schools starts March 23, and distributors are hoping that the kids will fill up the empty seats.

The audience at the Wednesday 5:20 p.m. showing of "Anastasia" was mostly made up of adult couples.

"She dragged me in -- I didn't want to go," said Vasily Podberyozny, 36, who was sitting with a friend in a sparse crowd of about 50 people.

Podberyozny was critical of the cartoon's exploitation of historical themes.

"I think this cartoon won't be accepted in Russia," he said. "It's done in a pure Hollywood style. They don't care if it's about Rasputin or some African character. They just want to make some money on our history."

"Historically, there is something wrong here," agreed Pyotr Moroz, 70, a retired teacher.

Podberyozny's companion, Lena Vansovich, 20, gave a more positive review. "If you close your eyes to all these defects, you get simple pleasure," she said.

"Anastasia" has evoked criticism outside of Russia as well.

Brian Moynahan, a British historian who recently published a book on Rasputin, said it was worrisome that Russian viewers were getting a story that has so "little relation to the truth."

"It casts Rasputin as a comic demon, a mad monk, which he was not," he said.

Russian monarchists are also not impressed with the idea of using the tragedy of the Russian throne as a subject for children's entertainment.

"This all is Hollywood's desire to substitute real history with a surrogate," said Vyacheslav Klykov, the head of the All-Russia Conciliar Movement, an organization that would like to reinstate monarchy in Russia.

As for the Anastasia's real fate, Klykov said there are no questions.

"They all were burned, and the remains were destroyed with acid," he said.

But promoters of the movie in Russia dismissed the criticisms, saying the film was not intended to be a historical account.

"This is just a sweet fairy tale," said Michael Schlicht, president of Gemini Film. "It is simply a story of a girl from a good family who had lost memories of her childhood and her relatives."