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Animated film a first for state


PHOENIX – The first Arizona-made animated feature film will be about Anastasia, the youngest daughter of Russia’s last czar, Fox Animation Studio executives said yesterday.

A year ago, Twentieth Century Fox chose Phoenix for its 300-employee animation film studio after Arizona offered the company about $1 million in job training funds and low-interest loans for state-of-the-art digital animation equipment.

The decision marked the first time one of the big Hollywood studios has located a significant operation in Arizona.

Meg Ryan has signed on to provide the voice of Anastasia and additional lead roles are expected to be cast within the next few weeks, said Bill Mechanic, president and chief operating officer of Fox Filmed Entertainment.

Other acting parts also are being filled, many of them locally.

More than 300 animators from 14 countries have been recruited to work on the production, which already has a “good year of work’ behind it, said the film’s co-director and co-producer, Don Bluth.

“I think of all the films I’ve worked on, I am the most excited and thrilled about this one.’ he said.

Bluth’s longtime creative partner, Gary Goldman, will also direct and produce the film.

Twentieth Century Fox, which has invested an estimated $100 million in its animation studio, lured Bluth and Goldman last year from Dublin, Ireland, where they were responsible for the operation of what has been described as Europe’s largest animation studio.

Among the duo’s credits are “An American Tail,’ “The Secret of NIMH’ and “All Dogs Go To Heaven.’

A spring 1997 release for “Anastasia’ is being targeted, Mechanic said.

He declined to say how much has been budgeted for the picture other than to say “it’s comparable to what’s being spent’ on other full-length animated features.

Bluth, who said his excitement for the project left him “a little anxious in my stomach’ said the film “is not a cartoon.’

“What we’re really making is a vivid fairy tale based on history,’ he said.

Princess Anastasia was the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II, who was killed when Bolsheviks executed the royal family in 1918. There have been claims for more than 75 years that Anastasia survived the assassination and escaped abroad. Several women have claimed to be Anastasia. The most famous, Anna Anderson, died in the United States in 1984.

Recording sessions for “Anastasia’ could begin as early as next month, Bluth said.

He was not sure whether Ms. Ryan would record her voice-overs in the Phoenix studio.

“It really depends on her schedule and what would be the most convenient for everyone,’ he said.

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