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Bolt (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jan 27, 2023



BOLT (2008)

Featuring the voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essner, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Greg Germann, Diedrich Bader, Ronn Moss and Nick Swardson.

Screenplay by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams.

Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams.

Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.  96 minutes.  Rated PG.

Bolt is a good enough, though not great, piece of Disney computer animation.  Probably the only reason it will really be remembered in the years to come is that it is the first animated film to be made completely and released by Disney since Pixar mastermind John Lasseter took over the studio’s venerable animation division.

While Bolt shows some of the visual trademarks (mostly good, but some bad) of the Pixar brand, in general it is a much lighter, surface-level confection than the deceptively simple looking puzzle-boxes of wonder for which the studio is lauded.  It has the fun, but it does not have to multiple levels and unique creativity for which Lasseter’s films are usually known.

In fact, if you get technical, several of Bolt’s major plot points – including the Hollywood super-dog getting free into the world, trying to use movie stunts in real life and saving the child he loves from an out-of-control fire – seemed recycled from last year’s admittedly-inferior live-action kid’s film Firehouse Dog.  Bolt uses these ideas better than Firehouse did, but still it’s a bit of a shock to think that the studio behind Ratatouille, The Incredibles and WALL-E would use such a stock storyline – which also riffs on such past kid’s films as The Incredible Journey, Journey of Natty Gann, Lassie and The Adventures of Milo and Otis.

It also touches on The Truman Show, as the story of Bolt is about a dog whose whole life is a TV show – but he doesn’t know that little fact.  He has been brought up to believe that he has super powers and that he must constantly protect Penny, “his human,” from evil-doers.

Therefore he spends all day on a Hollywood soundstage fighting off hundreds of villains in a series of special-effects laden chases and fights.  Then he spends all night alone in a trailer on a soundstage, thinking of ways to save Penny the next day, and occasionally humorlessly arguing with a pair of cats who play the pets of the bad guys.

Penny loves her little dog, but she worries that he is so worked up from saving her on a constant basis that he can’t enjoy being just a dog.  When on a special cliffhanger it appears that Penny has been kidnapped, Bolt can’t stand to wait and escapes the soundstage, mistakenly getting shipped to New York.

In the big city, Bolt learns that he can’t do all the wondrous things he believed he was capable of.  He starts a cross-country trek with only a cat and hamster he has met along the way as companions – meeting real adventures and needs head on and eventually realizing who he is.

John Travolta does a fine – if rather subdued job – as the super-pooch who misses home and the girl he loves.  Tween queen Miley Cyrus doesn’t add all that much in the underwritten role of Penny, although her name on the poster should be good for a bump in box office.  Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essner and Mark Walton are responsible for most of the significant laughs in Bolt as Mittens the jaded cat and Rhino the excitable hamster.

Technically, the film looks terrific, particularly in some background shots of San Francisco, Las Vegas, Hollywood and the heartland.  The animal characters are mostly lifelike and loveable, but what’s the deal with almost all humans in this movie being obese?  Other than little Penny, her sharky agent and one dog catcher, everyone in this movie needs to go on a serious diet.  Still, computer animators have always had a problem with humans, so it’s no huge surprise that it’s still the animators’ Achilles heel.

Still, if Bolt is imperfect – and it is – when taken on its own merits, it is an enjoyable diversion and a very able kids’ film.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: November 28, 2008.

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