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Bartok the Magnificent

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."

With:
Voices: Hank Azaria, Kelsey Grammer, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Tim Curry, Jennifer Tilly.

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.

Bartok the Magnificent

Production: A 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment release of a Gary Goldman production. Produced, directed by Don Bluth, Goldman. Executive producer, Lori Foster. Screenplay, Jay Lacopo. (Color

With: Voices: Hank Azaria, Kelsey Grammer, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Tim Curry, Jennifer Tilly..) Director of animation, Len Simon; art directors, Kenneth Valentine Slevin, Rob Nason; music, Stephen Flaherty lyrics, Lynn Ahrons; sound Mark Server; casting, Marion Levine. Reviewed on videocassette, Houston, Nov. 22, 1999. MPAA rating: G. Running time: 67 MIN.

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