- Byron Howard, Chris Williams
- John Travolta, Susie Essman, Miley Cyrus, Mark Walton
- 96 min.
- Release Date
Walt Disney Animation Studios’ first worthwhile venture into computer-generated filmmaking, a field their Pixar partners have dominated with an unshaken kingship, Bolt earns the company some much-needed credibility, even if the presentation comes by way of the hopeless device of 3-D. Exploring their cute talking animal fascination to new, hilarious degrees, Disney simply does what they’ve always done, only better than in recent years.
The first scene shows an American White Shepherd puppy behind glass, playing with a carrot squeaky toy, eventually finding his home with a young girl named Penny (voice of Miley Cyrus). Using puppies to capture our attention isn’t really fair, as even five years later, when the now-grown puppy named Bolt has developed extraordinary canine powers, including heat-ray vision and super strength and so forth, he’s adorable.
Don’t worry, this isn’t Underdog—Bolt doesn’t really have superpowers. The script by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams is much too clever for anything so silly. In an impressive dedication to realistic mise-en-scéne, the director of a weekly television program has gone to incredible lengths to convince Bolt (voice of John Travolta) that he really has superdog abilities. And so, kept unaware of the show’s production apparatuses, Bolt’s performance is all the more believable onscreen. He jumps into goons and they stunt-dive across the room; he arfs and Hollywood pyrotechnics take care of the subsequent super-bark explosion.
Eventually, Bolt escapes the set thinking he must save Penny from the show’s cat-loving villain Dr. Calico (voice of Malcolm McDowell), not realizing that the weekend break is a hiatus until the cliffhanger’s conclusion can be filmed the following Monday. He ends up being shipped to New York City in a box of Styrofoam packing peanuts, which, since his superpowers are suddenly not working, he believes weakened him like kryptonite does to Superman. Styrofoam hilariously becomes his greatest fear. Isn’t that just like a dog?
Bolt takes an alley cat named Mittens (voice of Susie Essman) prisoner, because of course, all cats are employed by the evil Dr. Calico. The two travel cross-country to “rescue” Penny, meeting other talking animal friends along the way. Most notable are some hilarious pigeons that devotees of Animaniacs’ “Goodfeathers” might scoff at, but provide invariable laughs nonetheless. An enthusiastic hamster named Rhino (voice Mark Walton), who has seen Bolt’s television show on “the magic box” and idolizes him, joins their adventure. Soon enough, however, Bolt must acknowledge that he’s just a normal dog with no special skills, except, perhaps, bravery.
Bolt is yet another example of why animation is boundless. Depicting a dog that races at immeasurable speeds down the freeway to capture a Frisbee-shaped bomb in his mouth, only to run back and deliver it to a motorcycle-riding thug, who then goes BOOM, costs millions in live-action terms. In animation terms, such an elaborate action sequence costs about the same as if the dog was sleeping in front of a fireplace.
And now, though I’ve been through this song and dance before, here are my inevitable complaints about the film’s 3-D exhibition: Projected in most theaters in Disney Digital 3-D, chances are viewers will have to endure those goofy tinted glasses, which, if you’re like me and already wear glasses, isn’t much fun. Children seem thrilled to partake in another (faux) dimension, but the effect, and the inherent darkness of the eyewear, diminishes the viewing experience and actually distracts from an appreciation of the otherwise bright and eye-popping animation. Sure, the effect is like a relief sculpture instead of a flat image, creating a false sense of depth. Yippie. Animation should create the illusion of reality without benefit of awkward glasses, but rather through the talent of the animators. WALL•E convinced me its future world receded, and even existed in-the-round, without the benefit of 3-D.
By storytelling alone, Bolt creates characters that make us forget we’re watching a cartoon. The compelling story and accompanying emotions are so successful, nothing else is needed to dazzle us. Disney has assured that future animated titles will be released in the 3-D format, and other animation studios like Dreamworks are following their cue, but their films are enjoyable enough without added special effects. Find a theater that does not yet support the equipment for the newly modified 3-D technology, and enjoy the picture for its purity of amusement.
Clearly, Disney animators have taken a few notes from their Pixar brothers. The film bursts off the screen, offering energy and humor without resorting to pop-culture references galore like so many other feature-length animated films nowadays (see Shrek or Madagascar). Achieving that rare balance where adults and children alike find themselves laughing at the same jokes, oohing and aahing at the same actionized stunts, and dare I say shedding a tear at the same heartwarming moments, the film presents universal entertainment on a blockbuster scale. And whereas some inattentive children may have squirmed in their seats at the wisdom and artistry of WALL•E, even those with short attention spans will be absorbed by Bolt.