Career Highlights - "Bartok The Magnificent" - 1999
When "Anastasia" was finished, and about to be released in theaters, we took a few weeks and animated some custom "Bartok the Bat" commercial bumpers to show on Fox Kids Saturday morning cartoons. Bartok would be 'hosting' the cartoon lineup for several weeks over the release of Anastasia in theaters. The short clips were anywhere from 5-10 seconds, to longer 30 second shorts... and were pretty funny. On the first weekend that Bartok was hosting, I decided to get up early and watch. To this day I am still confused why Fox only played the commercial for 'Anastasia' a couple times over this 6 hour cartoon lineup, while they played commercials for the re-release of Disney's 'Little Mermaid' and "Flubber" at nearly every commercial break.
Around the same time we animated the 'bumpers', we also created a little animation of Bartok for a Burger King - Kids Meal Commercial... the toys were really cool, including a working train set!
Following "Anastasia", we had a break from the intense schedule needed to finish our first film, and these promotional clips. During this time... over the course of several months, the directors, writers and creative team developed a story about Bartok. We had several features in early stages of development, but Bartok was ready to go, so the crew began this feature length project.
It was a fantasy adventure story, a detailed description of the plot can be found HERE on Wikipedia... (naturally, there are story spoilers at that link.) The film featured the voices of Hank Azaria (Bartok), Kelsey Grammer, Andrea Martin, Catharine O'Hara, Tim Curry, Diedrich Bader, and Jennifer Tilly. There were a lot of cool characters in this fantasy comedy story.
We produced a feature-quality animated film, which unfortunately was promted as a 'sequel' to Anastasia, when it really had nothing to do with the original film, other than being about Bartok. We were told it would be a theatrical release, but Fox ended up selling it direct-to-video and DVD in 1999.
At the time it was common practice to make cheap sequels ("cheapquels") to popular animated hits... but in many ways this hurt the market. The original film became less special, as the overall quality of these films was much less than the original. Sometimes important plot-points from the first film; even the death of a villain, would be altered by the plots in the sequel versions... just to continue the story.
The animation was often done overseas as cheaply as possible. They were rarely directed by the same people, and some times the voice actors weren't the same. In the case of "Bartok the Magnificent" however, we had taken the time to keep the quality of animation and direction much higher... and it was also Directed by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, the same directors as 'Anastasia'... but in the end, our film was just categorized as another cheap sequel, so it didn't get much attention. I still find it occasionally in the discount bins on Dvd. It's worth a look, and some laughs. Overall, it's quite a nice film, with some very nice animation, and catchy songs. Bartok the Bat, was funny as usual.
There wasn't a lot of promotion for the dvd. The chain of International House of Pancakes, "IHOP" restaurants offered Bartok stuffed toys based on the film. They were a better likeness than the original stuffed toys sold in toy stores during Anastasia's promotion.
At the beginning of our work on 'Bartok'... I was promoted to "Assistant Animator", working closely with one of the Directing Animators. I animated "Bartok" and "Pilaf" in a few scenes as well. It was a fun project to work on, and it kept our drawing skills up for the next feature film we'd be working on... which at the time, was known as "Planet Ice"...
Look for more "Career Highlights" in future blog posts... Thanks for Reading!