November 21, 1997 marked the wide theatrical release of Anastasia, the first feature from Fox Animation Studios and the ninth for the directing-producing team of Bluth and Goldman (Goldman co-directed for the first time, in addition to producing). The film performed well, earning around $140 million globally and becoming the highest-grossing Bluth film ever. It even spawned a direct-to-video spinoff, Bartok the Magnificent.
That same year, Turner Feature Animation also launched their first effort, Cats Don’t Dance. The following year, three more studios each debuted their hand-drawn efforts: Warner Bros.’ Quest for Camelot, Nickelodeon Movies’ The Rugrats Movie, and Dreamworks Animation’s The Prince of Egypt. But hand-drawn films proved no match for the groundbreaking success of Pixar’s early features from 1995-1999. The first two Toy Story films and A Bug’s Life each earned more than any of the aforementioned studios who were entering 2d filmmaking.
Then in 2001, Shrek and Monsters Inc. delivered the one-two punch out. The gargantuan success of those two films effectively ended 2d feature animation in the United Sates, leaving us with our current single-technique feature animation industry. (For the record, Fox Animation Studios closed in 2000, following the release of its second theatrical feature, Titan A.E.)
Looking at Anastasia today, it’s a time capsule from another era, a nostalgic look back at an exciting moment in animation history when all of Hollywood thought 2d animation was the future – except for a spunky upstart in Richmond, California that had a different vision for the future of theatrical animation in the United States.
Below are some early concepts of the character Anastasia, which appear to mostly be drawn by Bluth himself. They are part of the Don Bluth collection at Savannah College of Art and Design. A lot more pre-production artwork from the film can be seen at the SCAD Libraries website.