Bolt (2009, Walt Disney)
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I don’t care whether it’s animated or not — any time I see the words “starring John Travolta and Miley Cyrus,” I feel confident in assuming that the film in question is going to be 100 percent awful. For this reason, I watched Disney’s latest entrance into the world of chatty CG-animated animals, Bolt, with no small degree of trepidation — and maybe it’s just the low expectations talking, but in the end, what I expected to be a powerful new blend of suck proved instead to be an utterly charming little kid’s movie.
Bolt begins with a fast-paced action set piece, which pretty much sets the tone for the entire movie; overall, it’s a smartly concocted blend of high-concept plot, beautiful animation, and enough tender moments, sharp dialogue, cuddly critters, and good old-fashioned adventure to keep viewers of pretty much any age entertained. The storyline follows Bolt (Travolta), the canine star of a television show that depicts the exploits of a superpowered mutt and his owner, a scientist’s daughter named Penny (Cyrus), as they battle the nefarious Doctor Calico. Bolt, in a nifty twist, doesn’t realize the show is fake — which proves problematic when he accidentally leaves the lot where the show is filmed, ends up across the country, and has to find his way back to Penny, all the while believing he has the power to pick up cars with his teeth, bark bad guys into submission, and shoot laser beams out of his eyes.
Bolt is joined on his trip by Mittens (voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm‘s Susie Essman), a cat he takes prisoner, and Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster who just happens to be a rabid fan of Bolt’s show. Their cross-country journey is beautifully animated — despite the fact that the technological advancements of the format have long since numbed us to stuff like lifelike CGI grass and hair, it still looks great — and more importantly, screenwriters Chris Williams and Dan Fogelman never resort to the scatalogical humor or cheap pop-culture gags that have become de rigeur in these films. There’s some mild peril, but unless your kids are either extremely young or extremely sensitive, Bolt is well worth inviting into your home; aside from being thoroughly entertaining, it contains some positive messages about the difference between real life and television, and the power of belief. Parts of it are really sort of moving, actually.
This three-disc special edition comes bundled with a Blu-ray version, a digital copy, and the film (plus bonus features) on DVD, making it an excellent purchase for any family planning on making the jump to Blu-ray in the near-to-long-term future. The features themselves are nothing to sneeze at, either, including a short film that gives Rhino the spotlight, an assortment of behind-the-scenes featurettes that provide a glimpse of how the film was made and the process the voice actors went through, and a music video for “I Thought I Lost You,” the Travolta/Cyrus duet that, I must admit, doesn’t suck nearly as much as I thought it would. If you’re looking for some new viewing material for family movie nights, feel free to rent or purchase Bolt without reservation.