Bartok the Magnficent



July 17, 2018
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(The Channel Awesome logo and the title sequence are shown, followed by NC at his desk)

NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. It's no secret that the career of legendary animator Don Bluth has had some ups and downs.

(A poster for the Bluth film An American Tail is shown)

NC (vo): Like anyone's legacy, there's been some hits and there's been some misses.

(Cut to a shot of another Bluth film The Land Before Time)

NC (vo): But the hits seem to be when Bluth had the most control over a project...

(Cut to a shot of The Pebble and the Penguin)

NC (vo): ...and the misses seem to be whenever the studio he worked for took the most control.

(Cut to footage of Anastasia)

NC (vo): You can usually tell the studio interference by how much the films imitated what was expected to be popular at the time.

(Cut to a shot of the poster for Anastasia)

NC (vo): Whether it be Disney...

(Cut to a poster for Titan A.E.)

NC (vo): ...Star Wars...

(A poster for A Troll in Central Park is shown)

NC (vo): ...or even other movies that tried to rip off (A poster for Once Upon a Forest appears in the corner) other genres...

(A poster for Thumbelina is shown)

NC (vo): ...or Disney...

(A poster for Rock-A-Doodle is shown)

NC (vo): ...there's apparently a lot of meddling.

(Clips from The Secret of NIMH and Anastasia are followed)

NC (vo): Bluth was obviously known for his beautiful style, but was just as well-known for being wild, aggressive, and imaginatively odd. Traditional fairy tales or action films was not something to expect out of such a uniquely strange mind. But the attempts were made, and often were not as successful as others hoped.

(Now, we are shown the clips of the direct-to-VHS 1999 movie Bartok the Magnificent)

NC (vo): But, funny enough, his weird style shines in the last place you would expect it: a straight-to-video spin-off of one of his Disney cinematic knockoffs.

NC: It's the (posters of...) Ouija 2 and Annabelle: Creation of Don Bluth movies: Bartok the Magnificent! Yes, really. (Opening music starts to play, then abruptly stops) Yes, really. (Then the music starts up again)

(The title of the film is shown, before showing more of its clips)

NC (vo): Directed by Don Bluth with Gary Goldman and based on the comic relief from his animated film Anastasia, Bartok had the animation budget of a straight-to-video movie and, honestly, about as much interest from the studio. They seemed, understandably so, more interested in their cinematic release than their smaller VHS tie-in. But because of this, they interfered less, and we got a bizarre, unique and, honestly, kind of enjoyable little special out of it. It's not one of Bluth's grand works or anything, but it has more of his traditionally odd signatures, resulting in a crazy but surreally charming adventure. And we're here to look at this adorably insane film in all its wonderful head-scratching glory.

NC: So sit back and get ready to go, "Why?" you should with any good Don Bluth production. This is Bartok the Magnificent.

(The movie starts with showing the inside of the hut on chicken legs, which belongs to a famous Russian witch, Baba Yaga)

NC (vo): The film opens with a song about a witch named Baba Yaga, which in Russian translates to pointless, but funny throwaway joke in Ant-Man sequel. (A shot of Kurt and Scott Lang from Ant-Man and the Wasp is shown)

Chorus: (singing) Baba Yaga!

NC (vo): This immediately gives you a feel for the film. There's clearly little money thrown at this, there's not even that much animation to start out. But the stylized angles, colors and designs are already more unique than what you usually see in the direct-to-video product. This looks like Toys "R" Us if it went to Hell. (speaks somberly as the closed Toys "R" Us store is shown with a gravestone) No disrespect. Still miss you.

(We are shown Bartok the albino bat impressing the people of Moscow with his performances on the Red Square)

NC (vo): We cut pretty quickly to our main character, though--a Russian bat named Bartok, played by Hank Azaria.

NC: And before you go insane, he said he was open to a real Russian bat voicing the part.

(However, it is revealed to us that most of Bartok's performances are staged, like the weight-lifting. A blue kite shaped like a big bat is shown)

NC (vo): He travels town to town telling fake tales of his amazing heroics and even taking out leftover animation cells from The Thief and the Cobbler. I imagine a lot was left behind.

(A red-nosed bear appears and roars at everyone)

NC (vo): Damn those Russian bears always making their way into the center of Moscow!

Bartok (Hank Azaria): (blows some dust into a bear's face) Abraca-watch it!

NC (vo): Bartok seems to take out the bear, though, without breaking a sweat.

(The bear falls right into Bartok's wagon, which closes)

NC: (as Bartok) Yes, on to the pile of other...

NC (vo): ...dead carcasses my carriage is apparently built for storing!

(The cheering people throw money at Bartok)

Bartok: Thank you, that's too kind... (A ring is thrown at him) Ooh!

(The ring belonged to Prince Ivan, who arrived in the carriage with his advisor Ludmilla)

NC (vo): His antics caught the attention of Prince Ivan, but his advisor Ludmilla, played by Catherine O'Hara, wants to stop him from giving Bartok his royal ring, or she'll stab him with her chin.

Ivan (Phillip Van Dyke): Well, perhaps it's time for a change.

NC (vo): He still leaves Bartok with the ring, though, and us with the question: how much did Dimitri from the first film get around? (A shot of Dimitri from Anastasia appears to show the similarity between him and Ivan)

(Inside the Alexander Palace, Ludmilla scolds Ivan)

Ludmilla: You can't go around giving royal jewels to commoners.

Ivan: Well, I wanted to encourage him.

Ludmilla: (overdubbed by Kate McCallister from Home Alone) There are 15 people in this house, and you're the only one who has to make trouble.

(Meanwhile, Bartok is counting the money he received. It turns out Bartok's rescue was another act: the bear, who can actually talk, is named Zozi and is Bartok's partner)

NC (vo): As you'd imagine, Bartok staged the bear attack, and the bear is actually his thespian friend named Zozi, played by Kelsey Grammer.

Zozi (Kelsey Grammer): (putting his vest and bowtie on) Well, suffice it to say, the performance of my death today would have shamed Prometheus.

NC: Leaving us with the question...

NC (vo): much did Vladimir from the first film get around? (Vladimir from Anastasia, who was also voiced by Grammer, is shown)

Bartok: I wish you could hear yourself. It's really quite irritating.

Zozi: Critics.

NC: (as Zozi) I got the same reaction from Transformers 4.

NC (vo): Things heat up, though, when the witch turns the palace into Sleeping Beauty backgrounds and breaks into the prince's room.

(At night, when Ivan is sleeping, Baba Yaga opens the door, reaching out her arms, and the thunder crashes behind her. Ivan doesn't wake up)

NC: (as Baba Yaga) Hey, come on! I put a lot into that... (reaches arms out, and thunder is heard crashing) Somebody notice!

(The next day, after Ivan is kidnapped, Ludmilla finds an iron tooth and goes outside to inform the crowd of people what has happened. The crowd is...pretty small)

NC (vo): Apparently, the witch kidnaps the prince, leaving an iron tooth behind. Ludmilla announces this to the residents of Moscow. All 40 of them.

Ludmilla: Who? Who can rescue our prince from the evil Baba Yaga?

(Two little kids, a boy and a girl, run up to the front)

Boy (Zachary B. Charles): I know someone! (The kids giggle, and Ludmilla rolls her eyes)

NC: (as Ludmilla) Oh, yes, the two children who clearly have an understanding of strategic recovery? A bat, you say? 'Kay.

(Bartok and Zozi are on their way to St. Petersburg, but they spot the Cossacks coming after them. Bartok is brought back into Moscow, and Ludmilla explains what he has to do)

NC (vo): The soldiers bring Bartok to her, and they request that he save the young prince from the Iron Forest.

Bartok: It would give me no greater pleasure than to risk my life. (takes out a notebook) My schedule is extremely tight.

Girl (Kelly Marie Berger): Mr. Bartok?

Bartok: Oh, boy. Here comes trouble.

NC: I like that Bartok, essentially a cute Don Bluth animation, knows he's...

NC (vo): ...not gonna be able to turn down a cute Don Bluth animation.

Girl: (with tears in her eyes) Please.

Bartok: Oh...

NC: (as Bartok) Oh, God! How is she doing that?

(The girl's eyes grow more and more as an ominous chorus plays in the background)

NC (vo; as Bartok): The eyes! They're getting more and more Don Bluth-y! Aaah!

NC: (as Bartok) Okay, okay. Just stop everything going on in front of me.

(Bartok reluctantly accepts, and he and Zozi head to the Iron Forest)

NC (vo): So Bartok, of course, agrees to save the prince, and Zozi sings a song through tentacle Candyland.

Zozi: (singing) ♫ He's kind, he's smart, / That possible hero in you... ♫

NC: Yeah, great. Can we get to the dark stuff?

(Bartok and Zozi reach the Dark Forest, which is surrounded by weirdly shaped stones and vortexes)

NC: (excited) Whoo! This must be where they bury Muppets.

(To enter, Bartok and Zozi must answer a riddle given by a giant skull)

NC (vo): So they come across a giant skull, voiced by Tim Curry, who I swear was typecast as giant CG green shit for a while. (Forte from Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas, a CG-animated organ, is shown)

Skull (Tim Curry): Do you like riddles?

Bartok: Riddles?

Skull: Could you answer one? (overdubbed by Pennywise from It (1990)) Do you have Prince Albert in a can? You do?! Well, you better let the poor guy out! Wa-ha! Wa-ha! Wa-ha!

(Bartok guesses right, and the skull gives him a key to go inside Baba Yaga's hut)

NC (vo): No, the riddle is what key opens a witch's door, and the answer is a skeleton key. But apparently, Bartok is the only one who can enter.

(The skull doesn't let Zozi in)

Skull: Did you hear me could go in?

NC: (as the skull) Unless your worth lies far within, the diamond in the rough. (Beat) Which I seriously doubt. You're a bear!

(Bartok observes the hut on chicken legs, which is also CG-animated, and comes inside. Baba Yaga appears and sniffs out the place)

NC (vo): He comes across the witch's not fully rendered house and meets Baba Yaga.

Baba Yaga (Andrea Martin): (singing) ♫ A witch's life is very solitary. / No one around to talk to but trees. ♫ (The wah-wah trombone is heard)

NC: Okay, I know it's a short movie and you gotta squeeze in a lot of songs, but do we have to have one that has... (imitates wah-wah trombone) it?

Baba Yaga: (singing) ♫ No one in the attic! / No one in my chair! ♫

NC (vo): I keep expecting her to chase Dirk the Daring with a rolling pin. (Daphne's mother from the game Dragon's Lair is shown)

(Baba Yaga finds and captures Bartok)

Baba Yaga: You broke into my home.

NC (vo): She catches Bartok and says he has to prove his worth in saving the prince or die.

Baba Yaga: Head south to the ice quarry and bring Piloff to me.

Bartok: (overlapping, writing in his notebook) Ice quarry... Bring Piloff... (stops) Bring Piloff to you?

NC: Piloff? It's either a Russian fruit, a Russian Viagra, or both.

(In the ice quarry, Bartok finds a pink, serpent-like creature named Piloff, who is frozen to a boulder)

NC (vo): So he journeys with Zozi to find Piloff, who is a dog-like caterpillar with suction-cup hands, played by Jennifer Tilly.

NC: God, I love a movie where I can say that and it's not an exaggeration.

Bartok: (tries lifting Piloff up) I gotta bring you back to Baba Yaga.

Piloff (Jennifer Tilly): This isn't good. You see, I'm stuck. (lands back on the boulder with Bartok)

NC (vo; as Piloff): And when I say "stuck", I mean playing the same bimbo in everything, even though I'm secretly a friggin' genius. (The photo of Jennifer Tilly playing poker is shown) Did you know I was nominated for an Oscar? No, you didn't, you liar. (normal) She, like many of the characters, is adorably charming.

(Bartok cuts the rope holding a large piece of metal nearby, and it crushes the boulder Piloff is on, successfully freeing her)

NC (vo): I love, too, that Bartok actually knows how to do a good karate chop. It wasn't just a throwaway line for the Anastasia trailer. Okay, it was, but it was put to good use here.

(Bartok returns to the skull, but since Baba Yaga kept the skeleton key to herself, they have to answer a riddle once again)

NC (vo): But they have to answer another riddle to enter the skull once more.

Skull: No matter how hard you hit me, no matter how much I hurt, I'm always good for a laugh. What am I? (Zozi rubs his hands gleefully)

NC: Your role in Congo?

Zozi: A funny bone!

NC: Same thing.

(We go to a commercial. After coming back, we're shown Bartok and Zozi on their next mission: to take a crown made by Oble the troll metalworker, who is surrounded by an aura of fire)

NC (vo): So Piloff is returned to Baba Yaga, and she tells Bartok that he now has to get the crown of Oble. These names sound like unused Mario World characters. In fact, the cast looks like them, too. You sure this isn't Russian Mario Maker?

Zozi: (of Oble, in his forge) But perhaps he's friendly.

NC (vo): No, he's actually a Space Ace villain who speaks fluent Tasmanian Devil.

(Oble is shown talking gibberish)

NC: Why do I get the feeling this is one of those...

NC (vo): ...Vermicious Knids who eat Oompa-Loompas in Loompaland?

(Cut to a clip from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory)

Mrs. Teavee (Nora Denney): Loompaland? There's no such place.

NC: (grinning) Piss off, bitch.

(Bartok returns to Baba Yaga, and she tells him that the hardest task will be the next morning. Bartok obliges and goes to sleep)

NC (vo): They get the crown and take it back to the witch, who says the biggest challenge will be the following day. So Bartok takes a nap on the floor and wakes up the next day. Apparently, the witch has no change of clothes. My God, she must reek.

Baba Yaga: Pluck the magic feather from the sky.

(Bartok has to get the magic feather without flying. It takes effort for him, but he eventually grabs it)

NC (vo): She says she needs a magic feather, which Bartok also gets. Not sure why he had to wait until morning to do it, but if I can follow a lead who looks like (pictures of...) the scientist from Attack of the Killer Tomatoes fused Pinky and the Brain together, I should just accept the weirdness.

(Bartok gives the feather to Baba Yaga)

Baba Yaga: I need something from you.

(Bartok offers everything he can think of, but Baba Yaga rejects everything. Outraged, Bartok screams at Baba Yaga, accusing her of lying and cheating)

NC (vo): Seeing how he got the three objects, he now demands the prince, but she says she needs one last thing from him. He gets so fed up, though, that he yells at her and makes her cry.

Bartok: (comes to a sobbing Baba Yaga) What are you doing?

Baba Yaga: I'm just being a silly old woman.

NC (vo): Aw. Baba Yaga has feelings, too. (Kurt from Ant-Man and the Wasp is shown again) Suck on that, Kurt! You ass!

Bartok: (tears up) I wish I could give you what you need.

(Baba Yaga picks up Bartok's tear)

Baba Yaga: You just did. (drops the tear in her cauldron) The most important ingredient.

NC: (as Baba Yaga) An emotional moment. Something Roland Emmerich films never have.

(Baba Yaga makes a magic potion from the items she had Bartok collect and reveals that she never took Prince Ivan and that he is actually imprisoned on top of the tower in the palace)

NC (vo): She puts the tear along with the other ingredients he gathered, and the house shows him where the prince is at. Funny enough, he's back at the palace.

Bartok: You never took him, did you?

Baba Yaga: I never said I did.

NC: (as Baba Yaga) See? I'm not so bad. I just like risking the lives of others to do my dirty work. But the kids get a lesson, kinda!

(Baba Yaga gives Bartok a vial with a potion she made)

NC (vo): She gives him a potion, though, that makes who he truly is on the inside who he is on the outside.

NC: (slightly frightened) Eh, I wouldn't do that. Twitter does something similar, and it's not pretty.

(Bartok and Zozi return to Moscow, but since Zozi can't be seen here as a talking bear, he puts a table on his head and covers himself with cabbage leaves)

NC (vo): Zozi says he wants to help, so he works on a disguise so the villagers won't recognize him.

Bartok: What is this?

Zozi: Cabbage.

NC: Again, any movie that has a bear on a plate saying "cabbage" weirdly doing something right!

NC (vo): Anyway, it's gotta be better than his other character.

(This time, Zozi disguises himself as...)

Zozi: ...than Simka, the Russian peasant woman?

NC: It's not so much the costume, it's just imagining Kelsey Grammer doing that voice.

(The footage plays again)

Zozi: ...the Russian peasant woman?

NC: That's the sound my killer's gonna make before he cooks me.

NC (vo): Bartok enters the palace and finds Ludmilla has appointed herself in charge. Bartok says the prince is in the tower, but hasn't put together yet there's logically only one character who could've possibly kidnapped him...

NC: The girl in the opening!

(A screenshot of the young girl from earlier in the film is shown, and her eyes grow big again)

NC: (leans towards the camera) Nobody's that cute without planning some shit!

Ludmilla: Dasvidaniya.

(Ludmilla has imprisoned everyone inside cages. She pushes down on a switch, and the floor beneath the cages crumbles away, sending the cages plummeting down into the abyss below)

NC: Or her. That works, too.

NC (vo): So it looks like she (sings in the tune of "Kidnap the Santy Claus" from The Nightmare Before Christmas) kidnapped the Romanov!

NC: (as an IMDb logo appears below) Do a cast of her, it's more clever than it sounds.

(Ludmilla drinks the potion she stole from Bartok, believing her beauty will become tenfold)

NC (vo): And she drops the prince, the guard, and Bartok down the pit that, I guess, all towers have. She takes the potion herself and has, I guess, no big shock...a weird-ass song number.

(While singing, Ludmilla starts transforming into a dragon, bit by bit, unbeknownst to her)

Ludmilla: (singing) Starting today, every whisper turns into a shout! (slaps a prisoner with a hand that turns into a dragon paw)

NC: (puzzled) It's the "charming villain turns into dragon" number.

Ludmilla: (singing) Starting today, when the real Ludmilla comes out!

NC: I'd be laughing more if I wasn't certain...

NC (vo): ...that somebody somewhere is getting turned on by this.

(A shot of Ludmilla's breasts expanding is shown)

NC: (points at the camera) You know you're out there! (Beat) And you're weird!

NC (vo): Zozi helps rescue Bartok and the prince while Ludmilla attacks the, dozens of villagers throughout Moscow.

(Upon discovering she is a dragon, Ludmilla goes on a rampage through Moscow, setting many buildings alight with her newly acquired fire breath ability)

NC (vo; as a villager): We don't like Zack Snyder's reboot of Figment!

(Ludmilla has just set her sights on the young girl from before, when Bartok flies right in front of her face)

Bartok: Not so fast!

NC (vo): Bartok tries to stop the dragon and leads her back to the palace.

(Ludmilla climbs to the top of the tower, since she lacks any wings, and tries to attack Bartok. But the bat just keeps evading her attacks)

NC: You know, the thought occurs to me: there's a lot of female animated dragons, aren't there?

(As NC says that, six female dragons are shown. Clockwise: Nessie from the 2011 Disney short The Ballad of Nessie, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty, Narissa from Enchanted, Saphira from Eragon, Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone, and Dragon from Shrek)

NC: Even though I never knew or cared about this before, MY GENDER FEELS DEMEANED!

(The tower starts to become unstable and crushes, flooding the streets and dousing the flames. Ludmilla falls to her death. Bartok becomes a real hero of Moscow, and he flies up to the sky to meet Baba Yaga and Piloff in a mortar)

NC (vo): Bartok tricks the dragon into falling over, ending her short, fiery reign. Baba Yaga drops by as well, as Bartok says she owes him a hug.

(Bartok and Piloff hug Baba Yaga, who feels uncomfortable at first)

Bartok: Group hug.

Baba Yaga: Stop it, now. Go, go, go.

Bartok: Bring it in, everybody.

Piloff: Oh, I love hugs. I love hugs. (Baba Yaga chuckles)

NC: (smiles) Awww, how strangely hideous and cute.

Piloff: Bye, Bartok!

Baba Yaga: Goodbye, Bartok the Magnificent! (laughs)

NC (vo; as Bartok): You might be wondering where my girlfriend was from the end of the last movie. Well, maybe it's a prequel, which means I'm gonna suddenly turn evil in the next one, I guess. Kinda confusing.

(The movie ends)

NC: (as Bartok) You know what? There was no Meg Ryan in this, so count your blessings.

(The film's clips play once more as NC says his closing thoughts)

NC (vo): Bartok the Magnificent is a very cute, fun, imaginative little film that, for what it is, I think holds up better than the film that spawned it. Anastasia was trying to mix weird with conventional, coming off as kind of unbalanced. This one just embraces the weird and tells a smaller story on a smaller budget, meaning they have to rely a lot more on charm and uniqueness. And even though it's for a younger audience, I really feel it works. I love watching these characters interact, go on adventures, misunderstand things, be full of themselves. It's odd, but it's kind of irresistible. So much so, that apparently the studio wanted to run this on the big screen. But both Bluth and Goldman said none of the dimensions or resolution were correct for cinema. So, even though it's direct-to-video, I still see this as a Don Bluth film, and a really enjoyable one. It's no classic, like Secret of NIMH or Land Before Time, but it's a lot of innocent and weird fun. If you've got kids, or, heck, even want to check it out for yourself, there's surprisingly a lot more magic to this than you would expect.

NC: I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to.

(He gets up and leaves. The credits roll)

Channel Awesome tagline - Zozi: Cabbage.

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