Bolt (8/10)


What differentiates Bolt from every other CGI monstrosity released by Disney and similar companies looking to make a lazy buck is the character-centric story – cheap scatological humor and pointless slapstick moments are blessedly few and far between, so Bolt & Co have a chance to breathe and charm the pants off the audience.

Bolt is a fierce canine version of Buzz Lightyear – he’s the star of his own super popular TV show, and has no clue it’s all a hoax, put on by a network in Truman Show style so that the emotions Bolt shows on camera are believable, and above all, profitable.  Is it a stretch the rest the crux of the story on this highly unbelievable premise?  No, not really – it’s a cartoon, and the sequence that introduces Bolt as this action star is so manically energetic and fun, and the visual gags and action set pieces so clever and slick that it seems pointless to bicker over this plot point – the film takes it and hops, skips, jumps, and runs with it.  You can tell they’re having a ball, and it’s easy to catch the infectious fun.

Not so easy for the studio on the film to find and catch Bolt, after he’s escaped from his trailer to find and rescue his owner Penny – nabbed in the TV show by a delectable Malcom McDowell as the Green-Eyed Man.  A cliffhanger ending, demanded by an unsympathetic network executive, is what separates our hero from his owner, causing him to think his owner’s life is in danger and rush off to save her, accidentally getting shipped to New York City in the process.

In movies, dogs are easy protagonists, but Bolt goes above and beyond the call of duty, and John Travolta, believe it or not, is actually a huge part of this. He voices Bolt with a staunch determined air that is relatable and feels right at home inside Bolt’s crisply animated CGI body.

Supporting performances contribute too – Susie Essman as Mittens, a cat Bolt commandeers to show him the way back to LA, shares excellent chemistry with Travolta.  Their banter and friendship doesn’t reek of the artificial cat-dog nonsense other talking animals kids’ movies indulge in – you actually care about their fates, and enjoy watching them. Whoda thunk it?

Of course, I would be remiss if I failed to mention one of the best animated supporting performances that I’ve ever seen – Rhino the Hamster. In his travels Bolt meets an admiring and clueless furball living a couch potato life in a trailer park, alternately mesmerized and bored by the images flashing by on the TV, among them Bolt’s TV show. When he meets Bolt, his mind nearly explodes from excitement; like our furry friend, he believes all of Bolt’s adventures to be real, and the trio of Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino is the best part of the movie. Mark Walton voices Rhino, and gives him a fiery and cluelessly unafraid personality – though the rest of the cast (even Miley Cyrus as Penny) all turn in great voice work, the small shadowy frame and deliriously excited voice of Walton’s Rhino trumps them all – Bolt is worth seeing for Rhino alone.

The last twenty minutes of Bolt don’t live up to the first hour or so, and one conflict in particular seems fetched out of thin air.  The film may also come under some criticism for going the cliched route and painting Big Network TV as an evil conglomerate only out for money, but don’t make this mistake.  The TV people as the “bad guys” is only incidental, and the film never dwells for too long on this subject, thankfully keeping the focus squarely on Bolt and his pals, and ending up being more about the cost of fame and the toll it takes on those involved. It’s a sleek picture, and Pixar’s fingerprints can be spotted everywhere. Thank goodness.


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