Bolt - A Dog of Action But Not Too Much Sense
Walt Disney Animation Studios had a very rough decade from 2000-2010, but one of its few undeniable successes was "Lilo & Stich." Going back to the well, Disney had Chris Sanders, the brains behind that film, work up another idea about a dog with issues that ultimately became "Bolt" (2008). Directed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard from a script by Williams and Dan Fogelman, "Bolt" was a troubled production because John Lasseter from Pixar came in and immediately threw his weight around, apparently annoying Sanders enough to cause him to leave for greener pastures. Just as with "The Emperor's New Groove," the brains behind the operation took off, leaving a rump project which had to be rescued under a tight time frame. Disney did the best it could to salvage "Bolt," and it is a fun film, but one is left wondering how much better it could have been under different circumstances.
Bolt is a dog who stars on a popular television series named after him. The human star is Penny, who likes Bolt and has a good heart. The conceit of the television show is that Bolt has superpowers and battles the evil Dr. Calico. In order to get a better performance from Bolt, his handlers treat him as though he really does have such powers and that everything else about the show is real, too.
|Bolt and Penny|
One day, Bolt comes to the erroneous conclusion that Penny has been kidnapped by Dr. Calico and requires his assistance. Escaping from his trailer, Bolt winds up in a cargo crate and is shipped to New York City. Once there, Bolt concludes that the shipping materials stripped him of his powers. He meets Mittens, a street-wise alley cat, and together they hitch a ride on a truck back to Hollywood. Penny, meanwhile, is worried about the missing Bolt but accepts that she will have to continue production of the show with another dog.
|Bolt and Penny scouting out the enemy|
Mittens realizes that Bolt doesn't actually have any superpowers and teaches him how to beg for food. They meet hamster Rhino, a "Bolt" fan who is star-struck and joins them on their quest. Mittens and Bolt get into an argument which causes Bolt to bark loudly, attracting animal control. They are captured and taken to an animal shelter, but Rhino rescues Bolt, who then teams up with Rhino to rescue Mittens. Mittens continues teaching Bolt how to be a normal dog, but decides to stay in Las Vegas. She tells Bolt that his life in Hollywood is nothing but a fantasy, revealing that she herself was once a house cat who was abandoned by a callous previous owner. Bolt, however, refuses to believe that Penny doesn't actually love him and goes on alone. Mittens later has second thoughts and, along with Rhino, sets out after him.
|Bolt and Penny on a mission|
Bolt finally arrives at the studio, but the first thing he sees is Penny embracing the new dog. He leaves, brokenhearted, but Mittens also arrives separately and overhears Penny telling her mother how much she misses the real Bolt. The new dog causes trouble on the set, and Mittens convinces Bolt that Penny really does love him and isn't just pretending. The new dog's trouble has set the studio on fire, so Bolt runs in to rescue Penny. His "super bark" attracts firefighters, which saves both their lives. Penny, disgusted at publicity attempts to capitalize on the situation, quits the show and moves with Bolt and his friends to a remote town in order to recover her sense of balance.
|Bolt having a little fun with scenes from the "Die Hard" series|
One key to liking "Bolt" is how you feel about the voice actors. John Travolta is a big draw as Bolt and does his usual magnificent job, while Miley Cyrus voices Penny and Malcolm McDowell has a small part as Dr. Calico. Everybody involved does a great job, but once again, as in "Meet the Robinsons," Disney casts just about everyone else with low- or no-profile voice actors. Animated films are all about establishing a connection with the viewer through voices, and, wonderful as Susie Essman as Mittens and Mark Walton as Rhino may be, they are not recognizable voices. Having a top female star voicing Mittens might have made a big difference in how "Bolt" was received by the public.
|Bolt, Mittens and Rhino|
A bigger problem with "Bolt" is the script, which lacks that sense of reality that makes good animation great. It is one thing to have cartoonish characters, that is expected in animation, but also having them act in cartoonish fashion leaves you feeling cheated. There are many plot points that just don't seem authentic, such as Penny and Bolt quitting "Bolt" to go live in splendid isolation and Bolt going through life being too dumb to realize he's just a dog and not a superhero. "Bolt" also gives the nagging sense that it is really just trying to comment on television series and action movies like the "Die Hard" series (in one of which Bruce Willis faces down a chopper just like the one in "Bolt") and how unrealistic and phony they are, which isn't the most novel of concepts and imparts an unfortunate sense of Hollywood feeding on itself.
On the positive side, Travolta and Cyrus are true pros who know how to draw a viewer in and appreciate their characters, unrealistic though they may be. There are two original songs, one by Travolta and Cyrus called "I Thought I Lost You," that are quite good, and the score by John Powell is fine as well. The 3-D animation is stylized and uses cutting-edge technology to give the backgrounds a hand-painted look, though the 3-D aspect really doesn't add much. The "phony" scenes of Bolt filming his tv show are actually the best part of "Bolt," and a whole film like that wouldn't be half bad even though the film-makers are kind of making fun of that genre. At its most basic level, though, "Bolt" is a story of a girl's love for her dog, and on that level, it succeeds as long as you don't try to take everything else seriously. You may recall a weird incident around that time when Miley Cyrus herself supposedly lost her dog and went on a public bicycle search for it, which sounds suspiciously like a truly farcical publicity stunt, showing either how shameless celebrities can be in selling their product or how much wicked fun they can have yanking their chains hard.
|Bolt with Rhino|
The film did just all right at the box office, facing stiff competition from "Twilight" and the James Bond film "Quantum of Solace." The DVD and Blu-ray releases have a special short film called "Super Rhino," which helped the home video release sell millions of copies and probably enabled "Bolt" to turn a profit. The version to get if you have the right tv is the 3D Blu-ray version.
|Bolt and company at the Bellagio in Las Vegas|
"Bolt" is one of those fun films that has many issues that you have to overlook in order to really appreciate its heart-warming conclusion. This is a must-see if you are a Miley Cyrus or John Travolta, otherwise, well, it is just okay and one of many ways to while away an evening.
Below is the trailer for "Bolt."
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