Anastasia Revisited: The 1997 Animated Film Through the Eyes of the Arab World

Anastasia, the animated musical fantasy, was directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman and was the first animated movie to be produced by 20th Century Fox Animation. The film premiered at The Ziegfeld in New York City on November 14, 1997, and then went on to be released in cinemas later that month. It delighted contemporary critics and audiences and, even 26 years later, holds a rating of 84% on Rotten Tomatoes. Others criticized its historical inaccuracy—largely in how the duchess was portrayed. It went on to receive several prestigious award nominations, including two at the 70th Academy Awards: Best Original Song (“Journey to The Past”) and Best Original Music or Comedy Score.

But did the Arab world know the same Anastasia?

To some extent, yes—except that no one really cared about the background story of where Anastasia came from historically. Some even thought it was a completely fictional story about an orphan who chose to be adopted by the royal family, and that explained why she was contemplating leaving her life behind, even though she wanted a family. In the lost princess’s quest to find her way home, Anastasia faces many challenges, and she overcomes each with her strong character and will. The character was a role model for many children in the Arab world, with her story teaching many to keep on going no matter the obstacles.

In 1998, the movie was dubbed by Venus Center to standard Arabic language. It premiered in movie theatres at the same time as the release in the United States, and it later screened on Spacetoon Channel. Even when the channel stopped screening the film itself, it would play its soundtrack in-between programs. The film was again released in 2008 on Space Power, a sub-channel of Spacetoon, and it received so much positive feedback that’s it is still is a go-to movie in 2023. It is considered to be one of the biggest dub-works in Arab animation history, especially with the involvement of big stars like Syrian actor Rasha Rizk as Anya/Anastasia.

Rasha Rizk is known in the Middle East for singing the theme songs for many cartoon and anime films on the Spacetoon channel, which is in itself the most famous kids television channel around. So many ’90s kids grew up listening to her voice. Dimitri’s speaking voice was provided by Marwan Farhat, with Hanan Shqer as young Dimitri, and Bassam Al- Hassouny provided the character’s singing voice. Rasputin was voiced by Mohammad Kharmashou, Vladimir by Mamoun Al-Rifai (Edward for his singing voice), Bartok by Ziad Al Rifai, Empress Marie by Tharaa Debsy, and Sophie’s voice by Amena Oma (with Iman Al–Amir as her singing voice).

We cannot forget the masterminds behind the dubbing either: Rodwan Hijazy worked on the translation and adaptation of the script, while Tareq Al-Arabi Torqan wrote and directed the musical production of the film. Directed by Manaa Hijazy, so much effort and love was put into every aspect of this version of Anastasia that it’s become truly iconic in this part of the world.

Check out the dubbed soundtracks below and you will know what I am talking about!

A clip of the dubbed version of “Journey to the Past” by Rasha Rizk.

While the words are not a direct translation of the original, they do manage to convey the same sentiment

Rasha Rizk in concert at Jeddah’s City Walk, Saudi Arabia.

Rasha Rizk sings “Once Upon a December” in the Arabic version of Anastasia