Published at: Nov. 21, 2008, 6:44 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey folks. Capone in Chicago here.
I know that the knee-jerk reaction to any non-Pixar animated work from Disney is resistance and ridicule, but please allow me to be among the first to tell you that BOLT goes down easy and is a whole lot of fun. Yes, co-directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard use what has to be the most obvious creature in the known universe to gain our affections--a cute dog (a rescue dog, no less, voiced by John Travolta), who has superpowers that he uses to defeat the evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell), the villain with one green eye. His master (or as Bolt calls her, his human) is Penny (Miley Cyrus), and together they have continuous adventures defending the world against Calico and his particular brand of evil (complete with a pair of evil cats) with Bolt's extraordinary abilities to leap hundreds of yards at a time and a super bark that seems to have the impact of a small, concentrated earthquake. The only thing is, none of it is real.
You see, although Penny does love her dog dearly, she's also an actress on a TV show, of which Bolt is the star. The showrunners have come to realize that if Bolt ever sees a camera or boom microphone he'll know his whole life is a lie, so he's essentially isolated and left thinking he really does have all of these powers and that Penny's life is in constant peril. Some of the great voice talents used early on in the film include James Lipton as the show's director and Greg Germann as Penny and Bolt's slimy agent. Through a series of misadventures, Bolt is accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York City. Thinking that this is all Calico's doing and that Penny is in serious danger, Bolt decides to somehow make the cross-country journey back to his human.
Before leaving New York, Bolt crosses paths with a mangy stray cat named Mittens (voiced to sassy perfection by "Curb Your Enthusiasm's" Susie Essman), who Bolt immediately thinks is in line with Calico since, you know, she's a cat and all cats are evil (cats are not represented well in this film in case you couldn't tell). Mittens pretends to know where Penny is being held, and the pair begin the trip to California together. Along the way, they add a third member to their party, a weird, fat star-struck hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton), who lives in a plastic ball and loves TV. He knows exactly who Bolt is and is the first to reveal to the dog that the life he knows is a lie.
BOLT works because it doesn't try too hard to be cute and lovable. The adventure show opening is fantastic, and a big part of me wanted all of Bolt's superpowers to be real. But this film is at its heart a road trip movie. Bolt and Mittens are a great team, with Essman really delivering in some crucial emotional scenes that reveal a bit about Mittens's past and her scrappy nature. She's a damaged feline. The film has some emotional depths that I wasn't anticipating, and there's more than one moment in the film where you might feel the old tear ducts start to fill up. And while the film is clearly made for younger audiences, I don't think any adults are going to struggle to enjoy BOLT. I especially liked Walton (a storyboard artist, who also does voice acting) as Rhino, who is clearly meant to embody fanboys the world over who actually get the rare opportunity to spend a little time with a hero. As far as I'm concerned, he and Essman are the stars of this film.
BOLT has a noble innocence to it as well. Bolt the character understands that a dog and his human belong together and that's really all her cares about. Sure, having the veil pulled away from his heroic life is devastating, but it's secondary to his knowing that Penny really does care about him. I was also quite pleased that the film didn't pull any punches when it comes to putting animals and young humans in peril. This film is rated PG not G for just this reason. Penny gets kind of beat up (in the TV show) and Bolt and his pals see mild abuse as well, especially in a fire sequence at the end of the film. If you have youngsters that will freak out because they think a puppy might get killed, you may want to keep them away from this movie. My guess is the kids can take it even if you can't. There are easily a dozen movies I'd recommend people go see ahead of BOLT, but I'd also urge you at some point to check this out before the theaters get packed with award contenders and end-of-year event films. And you can watch this film in 3-D at certain theaters (I did not see it this way but would love to, especially the opening action sequences). Not a must see, but a good time nonetheless.