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February 19, 2009

8

Movie Review – Bolt (2008)

by HELEN GEIB

Disney’s animated adventure Bolt opened at the local second run theater this past weekend, giving me the opportunity to see another of the major Academy Award-nominated films on the big screen. I’m glad I acted on it. Bolt is a fun movie and excellent family fare.

The set-up of Bolt is the old comedy standby of a privileged youngster torn from his sheltered life and thrown upon his own resources out in the big, bad world. Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is the canine star of a popular TV show about the adventures of a spunky girl and her dog. The dog has been “modified” by the girl’s scientist father with superpowers, including super speed, laser beam-shooting eyes, and the bark of power. Poor Bolt’s been duped by the show’s producers into believing this fictional world is the real one- all in the good cause of getting the best performance possible.

His misapprehension leads to many comical mishaps when he escapes his handlers and inadvertently gets himself shipped to New York City. Bolt enlists the aid of an alley cat named Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman) whose hard shell hides a wounded heart. Bolt and Mittens gain an unexpected ally in a wacky hamster named Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton) who has seen way too much TV and trusts implicitly in the superpowers of the super dog. The trio embark on a cross-country journey to Hollywood compelled by Bolt’s determination to reunite with his person, child star Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus).

Bolt is a synthesis of familiar storylines, starting with the Hollywood star traveling incognito to experience life outside Dreamland. Mismatched pets surviving an arduous journey to return to their owner is the plot of the classic young adult novel The Incredible Journey. Bolt’s rude awakening is like the shock felt by the rich man who considers himself a wit until people who don’t depend on him for a living fail to laugh at his jokes. The “rich kid in the real world” plot has been made before with dogs in the starring roles, most notably in Disney’s own Lady and the Tramp and most recently in last year’s Disney moneymaker Beverly Hills Chihuahua.

I offer the above more as an observation than a criticism. To the extent they’re even aware of it, children won’t be bothered by the film’s lack of originality, and Bolt is a good enough movie that it won’t matter much for adult viewers either.

The foremost element in the film’s success is the character of Bolt; he’s lovable, loyal, funny, heroic, and darned cute, too. There’s not a kid in America who wouldn’t want a dog like Bolt. I can’t praise Travolta’s voice work too highly. It’s lively, varied, and well attuned to the character, one of the best things he’s done in years. Runner-up in the favorite character stakes is comic relief Rhino. That’s one funny, funny hamster.

Colors in Bolt are bright and appealing. The animals, buildings and objects, and landscapes are drawn in a fairly realistic style while the people’s faces and bodies are exaggerated. The animation of the animals- expressive without distortion- stands out. Rhino’s contortions in the grip of strong emotions are wonderfully amusing and it’s incredible how pigeon-like the pigeons’ twitchy movements are.

Bolt was nominated with Kung Fu Panda and Wall-E in the category of best animated feature film for 2008. Judged on animation alone, Bolt is not the equal of its competitors (although it surpasses Wall-E as children’s entertainment). There is though, one long sequence near the beginning of the film that is the equal of anything in Kung Fu Panda or earthbound Wall-E. Presented as an excerpt from Penny and Bolt’s TV show, the sequence is a brilliantly animated, hilarious send-up of overblown Hollywood action movies complete with chases, explosions, gadgets, indestructible heroes, absurdity, and note-perfect “camerawork” and “special effects.”

The film makes a strong plea for responsible pet ownership; overtly through the character of Mittens (traumatized by pet abandonment), obliquely through Bolt’s unwavering faith in Penny, and subtly through narrative and visual endorsements of pet adoption from animal shelters. Children may ask to get a dog after seeing this film, but there was never any danger of it generating a run on some unsuitable-for-children breed. Bolt is definitely a mutt.

3 stars

Note: Bolt is paired with “Tokyo Mater,” a short animated comedy featuring the hick tow truck from Pixar’s Cars. The short is an amusing spoof of The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Doc
    Feb 19 2009

    Don’t forget the mad scientist of the show within a show. The Green-Eyed Man is voiced by Malcolm MacDowell in another of a string of entertaining performances he has turned in recently.

  2. Oct 12 2010

    I just watched this movie over the Labor Day weekend with my Grand daughter. It was an absolute gem. The scenes wherein Bolt was the only character who didn’t know this was just a TV show were obviously written to appeal to the humor of an adult. I loved every minute of this one. Thanks for a great review.

  3. Helen
    Oct 14 2010

    I haven’t put it to the test but I think Bolt is one you could watch repeatedly and enjoy each time (a pertinent standard for any children’s film!). Disney was back in top form with this and The Princess and the Frog.

  4. Oct 15 2010

    I still hadn’t watched The “Princess and the Frog”, probably because of the whole “princess” thing and I feel that one viewing of “Bolt” was enough. I liked the first 10 minuets of it the most, then realized that the story was about a dog that thinks that he has super powers and is only an ordinary dog. I hadn’t watched the trailers so I had no idea what the film was about so you can understand why I liked the first 10 minutes the most. The problem I have with it is that I didn’t care for most of the characters because unlike in Wall-E and Up, Bolt and his buddies weren’t in really terrible danger. I never feared for them because the film was too breezy and cheery. But that’s just me.

    Even Toy Story 3 managed to tense me up here and there and the third act was soooo grim… I loved it. I can see it winning an Oscar in two seconds.

  5. Helen
    Oct 15 2010

    The last few Pixar films have shifted away from the traditional family film dynamic, instead being directed first to adults and the Young Adult market and secondarily to children. This is especially apparent with Toy Story 3, with its “leaving childhood behind” theme personified by Andy. Bolt is a children first, parents second film, starting with the comforting familiarity of the girl-and-her-dog/ Incredible Journey storyline and continuing through the comical animal sidekicks.

  6. Oct 16 2010

    I hear yah. But explain this: I loved “Over the Hedge”, seen it several times. Am not in love with Bolt. Same company, same “children first…” attitude. But I hate the Madagascar movies, they are unfunny and annoying.

  7. Helen
    Oct 16 2010

    Well, we don’t all like the same movies. :) I haven’t seen either Madagascar movie or Over the Hedge. I enjoy family films as a genre, but I don’t see all that many of them because they’re so often either crude or saccharine.

  8. Oct 17 2010

    I say: stick to Pixar like me and movies that are not geared towards children but to families as a whole. and I definitely recommend you check out “Over the Hedge” because it’s awesome and Steve Carell provides the voice of a super hyper squirrel. :OD

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