Bolt – Review

Even superhero dogs get the blues.

Directors: Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Notable Cast: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton and Greg Germann

Bolt, the titular character in this Disney foray into digital 3D animation, is delusional. He believes he can run through walls headfirst and not be harmed. He thinks his bark can activate a sonic boom of destruction. Faster than a speeding bullet, with heat vision that can melt objects, yep, he’s a superdog all right.

Or so he thinks.

Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is the star of an action-packed television show – part Inspector Gadget, part 24 – alongside his 12-year-old owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus). Each weekly adventure involves Penny trying to find her father, who is being held by the “Green-eyed Man,” an irksome villain voiced by Malcolm McDowell, at an undisclosed location.

Bolt doesn’t know that it’s a TV show that airs Thursday nights at eight. The director has Bolt stay on the set, sleeping in a trailer while Penny goes off to DVD junkets at the insistence of her chirpy agent. But when she’s away Bolt thinks Penny’s in the clutches of the diabolical villain. So he anxiously stands guard in the trailer waiting for the perfect moment to escape and race to the rescue.

After an introduction that is every bit as good as a James Bond number Bolt veers into familiar territory, becoming a story that explores themes of friendship and separation. (For real this time, and not for the benefit of millions of 18 to 35 years olds.)

In a year that has been good for animation, Disney produces its best studio animation project since Lilo & Stitch. The story feels like an animated Truman Show with moments reminiscent of some of Pixar’s best.

When Bolt slips out of the trailer trying to find Penny, he winds up getting shipped all the way from Hollywood to New York City. In a box of pink Styrofoam packing peanuts. Emerging out of the box, he is shocked to learn that his powers no longer work. Those little pink things have weakened him.

The journey back to Hollywood, and the madcap situations along the way, is the real fun. In NYC, Bolt’s confusion grows. Three pigeons with strong New Yawker accents take him to the scrawny cat Mittens (Susie Essman), someone who Bolt is led to believe knows the whereabouts of the Green-eyed Man. He makes Mittens his prisoner and forces her to take him to Penny. Joining the party a few states later is Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster who’s been a fan of Bolt’s ever since seeing him on the “magic box.”

Everybody knows Bolt isn’t the superdog he thinks himself to be. Well, except for maybe Rhino. Watching the magic box, he probably thinks Bolt is a reality show, only a hundred times better than Lassie. (Because melting lead bars with heat vision is much more enjoyable than rescuing little Timmy from a well.) The cross-country trek that takes up the majority of the story is an enlightening experience for Bolt; Mittens instructs him on the finer points of being a dog. Such a sheltered life not knowing how to beg for food, drink from toilets or play fetch.

Bolt learning to be a dog five years too late is fun, but this is clearly a story where the supporting players steal the movie. Rhino rolling around in his plastic ball is beyond awesome. B-awesome! as he calls it. Like Scrat, the saber-toothed squirrel in the Ice Age movies, Rhino provides the most laughs when he’s on screen. He’s a fearless fanboy, and the best assistant a fake superhero dog could want.

A project of familiar parts, Bolt is a successful blend of action and comedy that both kids and adults can enjoy. And as the only family film of the holiday season, forgive me as I steal a Rhinoism:



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