An Outlandish Demand From Johnny Depp Stopped Him From Starring In Anastasia

There aren't very many major American animated features that weren't made by Disney, and some of the best were created by animation master Don Bluth. Bluth was a Disney animator who left the company citing "creative differences," and he went on to create classics like "The Secret of NIMH," "An American Tale," and "The Land Before Time." In 1994, Bluth teamed with 20th Century Fox and longtime collaborator Gary Goldman to create Fox Animation Studios. Their first feature was "Anastasia," a historical adventure story about Anastasia Romanov, the daughter of the last Russian Tsar and possibly the only survivor of the mass assassination of her family. The film earned two Academy Award nominations — for the original song "Journey to the Past" and the movie's score — and is remembered by many '90s kids for being a weird and wonderful alternative to the movies from the House of Mouse. 

But it wasn't easy finding the right voice cast for the film, and Bluth and his team had to work hard to impress some A-list stars and bring them onboard. It turns out that one potential star, actor Johnny Depp, had demands that were just a little too intense.

Ego much?

The first voice actor Bluth had to court was Meg Ryan, who was interested in the project, but leery of the dark historical content. To persuade her, Bluth had an animation team re-create one of her famous scenes from "Sleepless in Seattle," and she was so impressed with the gesture that she signed on to voice the precocious princess. Her singing voice would be provided by Liz Callaway, who also served as Princess Jasmine's singing voice in the "Aladdin" sequels and as the voice of Odetta in "The Swan Princess." 

With the lead out of the way, Bluth looked for someone to voice Anastasia's romantic interest, the roguish Dimitri. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Bluth revealed that their first pick for Dimitri had been "Dead Man" star Johnny Depp, but that he had a ridiculous request: he wanted the character to look like him. Don't get me wrong, Depp circa the mid 1990s was pretty easy on the eyes, but the animation team had already likely designed the characters, and basing the appearance of the character on the voice actor isn't exactly industry standard. In fact, one of the only times it's worked well is in Disney's "Hercules," because who wouldn't want to draw Danny DeVito as a satyr?

Animating a short sequence from one of her films to win over Ryan is one thing, but completely redefining the look of a character for the film is a totally different ballgame. In the end, Bluth decided not to go with Depp. 

Depp ends up not voicing Dimitri

The role of Dimitri ended up going to John Cusack, who did a fine job despite admitting that he had a terrible singing voice. (That's okay — his singing parts were done by Broadway singer Jonathan Dokuchitz!) Depp didn't seem too fazed by the loss of the role, especially since "Anastasia" was doomed to fail due to Disney re-releasing the 1989 classic "The Little Mermaid" in theaters on the very same day as "Anastasia." Depp went on to star in his best performance, as Raoul Duke in Terry Gilliam's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas," the following year, so maybe him not getting the part was a good thing. Besides, there are entire articles dedicated to the crushes young Millennials had on Dimitri, and those fans would probably be disappointed in a drawn Depp look-alike. 

Bluth tackled plenty of challenges in bringing "Anastasia" to life, including filming a full-length live-action version with theater actors (presumably so the animators could reference their movements) and utilizing brand-new computer technology to enhance certain elements, like the ghostly figures in the magical song sequence "Once Upon a December." Bluth was more than willing to do whatever it took to create his vision for the story, but it was his vision to change as he pleased. "Anastasia" may be a messy footnote in animated movie history, but it also takes some big swings that Disney would never attempt, and it's refreshing. 

Bring back Bluth... please?