Ah, Bolt. When this movie originally hit the theaters, I thought that Disney Animation was so deep in the toilet that Bolt barely registered. In fact, I’m not sure I even knew the movie was a Disney release – I might have thought it was DreamWorks or whoever makes the movies in the Ice Age franchise. At any rate, I didn’t go into this movie with high expectations.
When I was reading up on the film’s history, I did find some interesting “making of” trivia. It was originally a Chris Sanders project called American Dog (the genius behind Lilo & Stitch) but when John Lasseter came on board in 2006, he axed virtually all of Sanders’ ideas and replaced him with Chris Williams and Byron Howard. Sanders went off to DreamWorks and had a hit with How to Train Your Dragon; the revised American Dog was renamed Bolt and infused with that Americana-nostalgia that permeates Cars and other Lasseter projects. I wish I could have seen the Sanders version; I’m sure it would have been weirder and much more appealing than the movie that hit the theaters in 2008.
Bolt is the star of a TV show, in which he is a dog with superpowers. Every episode revolves around saving Penny, his human, from the evil Dr. Calico, a villainous cat. The trouble is that Bolt believes that he really has superpowers, due to the director’s bizarre belief that the best way to get a realistic performance from an animal actor is to convince it that everything is real. When studio executives insist on increasing the show’s drama, a two-part episode leaves Penny unsaved at the end of a day’s filming, and Bolt freaks out. He escapes from the TV studio, determined to find the kidnapped Penny, but in the process falls into a box and gets shipped to New York City. Once there, he forces an alley cat named Mittens to help him. The two of them begin a cross-country journey back to Hollywood, joined by a hyperactive hamster named Rhino, so that Bolt can be reunited with Penny.
I was never going to be a huge fan of this movie, because I don’t like animal stories that much. I admit that now. But the premise with which the movie begins is so ridiculous that I really couldn’t get into the story at all. In order for Bolt to be completely unaware that he has no superpowers, one of two possibilities has to occur:
1. Every minute of the TV show has to be taped in one take, with special effects always working perfectly. Lines can’t be flubbed or changed. There’s no re-shooting if a piece of equipment craps out. Since control of the situation is essential, there’s no shooting on location – everything happens on a very expensive, very carefully choreographed soundstage. I’m sorry. That’s just so impossible that suspension of disbelief can’t cover it…OR
2. Bolt’s a complete and total moron.
Neither possibility bodes well.
Story aside, the movie’s pretty well put together. The actors manage to capture the animal essence of their characters. John Travolta, as the title character, infuses Bolt with the earnest sincerity that has made dogs man’s best friend, while Susie Essman’s cynicism perfectly suits her world-weary alley cat. Mark Walton’s Rhino is a fuzzy ball of hyperactivity, an obese terror of Internet fanboy fanaticism and hamster. The animation is smooth and the texture of animals’ fur is very convincing. Although I object to certain design choices – why is Bolt’s head so freakishly huge? – it works within the context of his world.
But I was just so bored throughout the movie. The cross-country animal journey has been done before – remember Homeword Bound? – and that segment of Bolt is so much stronger than the Hollywood scenes it is sandwiched between. Bolt’s growth and maturity as he learns how to be a hero without superpowers is the heart of the film, to be sure…but having established that Bolt’s an idiot with the opening premise of his TV show, I just couldn’t make myself care about him.
I probably would have liked Bolt as a kid. It’s written for the little ones, and it’s a harmless, if forgettable, little movie. But as an adult, I know that there are much better films out there, so I don’t think I would ever show this to any child of mine.
I really didn’t care for it, but I recognize that a lot of the dislike is personal and that the movie itself is not that horrible.
Seriously, how can Bolt stand upright? His head's practically the same size as the rest of his body!