Sidekick Bat Spreads His Wings in 'Bartok'

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Audiences went batty over the impish Bartok in Fox's 1997 animated musical "Anastasia."

In fact, the white, wisecracking, diminutive bat was such a favorite of children and adults that he is now starring in his own movie, "Bartok the Magnificent," which made its video and DVD debut on Tuesday (Fox, $20 for video; $30 for DVD).

"Once we thought about a lot of ideas, our favorite idea was the one you see," says Chris Meledandri, president of 20th Century Fox Animation. "We watched so many audiences watch the movie, it was clear that there was this great affinity for Bartok."

Hank Azaria reprises his role as the voice of Bartok, who is sent on a quest to save the young Prince Ivan, whose kidnapping has left the Russian throne in trouble. Kelsey Grammer is the voice of his sidekick, Zozi the Bear; Andrea Martin is Baba Yaga, the witch of Russian lore who ends up actually being a sweetie; Catherine O'Hara is the voice of Ludmilla, Prince Ivan's conniving regent; and Jennifer Tilly supplies the giggles as the optimistic pink creature, Piloff.

Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, the directors and producers of "Anastasia," repeat those duties with this movie; composers Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, who penned the Oscar-nominated score of "Anastasia," wrote five new ditties for "Bartok." Flaherty also composed the underscore.

"The movie came together very quickly," Meledandri says. "Hank wanted to be involved, more than just the voice. He wanted to be involved in coming up with the story and really shaping the film creatively. I have never seen a movie grow organically more quickly. The movie sort of pulled us along behind it. Then we got the enthusiastic response from Don Bluth and Gary Goldman that they wanted to make the movie themselves, and then Lynn and Stephen wanted to be a part of it in such a critical way."

Unlike most made-for-video animated films, "Bartok" is surprisingly rich visually. "We believe that the movie we have made is absolutely of theatrical quality," Meledandri says.

"Yet we thought the best way to present the film to an audience was through video. There is certainly a history of audiences responding to an original video release that is a theatrical movie. But we certainly thought about releasing it theatrically because we think it is such a strong film.

"The budget was lower than the theatrical budget for 'Anastasia,' " he says. "But Don and Gary really used a lot of their filmmaking skill to make sure that there was a production value in this film that audiences would feel was absolutely up to the standard they had set on 'Anastasia.' "

"Anastasia" was a big hit on video, selling 8 million units.

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