The literally batty sidekick who swiped scenes throughout 1997’s “Anastasia” is rewarded with his very own animated adventure in “Bartok the Magnificent,” a lightly diverting direct-to-video opus. Tykes will likely be charmed by the brisk pacing, vibrant (albeit stereotypical) characters and engaging storyline, while parents may be especially grateful for a cartoon with much better production values than “Pokemon.” Title should generate strong sales during the holiday season and enjoy a long shelf life as a homevid rental.
The sequel actually appears to be a prequel, since the setting is pre-revolutionary Russia. Bartok, the motor-mouth bat voiced by Hank Azaria, is a traveling entertainer whose showstopping specialty is the apparent killing of a ferocious bear. But Zozi (Kelsey Grammer), a grandiloquent beast with Shakespearean pretensions, only pretends to die. A good thing, too, since Bartok needs all the help he can get to rescue a kidnapped young prince. Baba Yaga (Andrea Martin), a notorious witch, is the most likely suspect. But even very small children will notice early on that Ludmilla (Catherine O’Hara), a duplicitous regent, is the real villain of the piece.
“Anastasia” co-directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman do a respectable job of establishing what promises to be a new direct-to-video franchise. Though certainly not as lavish as its bigscreen predecessor, the sequel is attractive and involving, with Tim Curry (as a suave giant skull who’s fond of riddles) and Jennifer Tilly (as a pink and precocious snake-like creature) well cast as supporting-character voices.
Azaria reprises his Bartok vocals with amusing brio, though Grammer is the real scene-stealer this time. Tape and DVD conclude with sing-along segments that reprise the pleasant but unremarkable original tunes by Stephen Flaherty (another “Anastasia” alumnus) and Lynn Ahrons.