(Disney) Starring the voices of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Diedrich Bader, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton. Directed by Chris Williams and Byron Howard
Sometimes the world we live in isn’t what we think it is. That can be because we tend to believe what we want to believe, and other times it’s because we see what others want us to see. There are only two things that we can really rely on. The first thing is ourselves; the second thing is love.
Penny (Cyrus) is the daughter of a noted scientist who has been kidnapped by the nefarious Dr. Calico (McDowell), the Man with the Green Eye (just one). In order to get the scientist to give up information about the classified project he is working on, the evil Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) has decided to kidnap Penny to use as leverage. Thankfully, she isn’t alone. Before he was kidnapped, the scientist enhanced the family dog Bolt (Travolta) with super strength, super speed, heat vision and above all, a super bark. Despite all the black-suited minions on motorcycles, the high-tech weapons, the attack helicopters and fiendish traps set by the sinister Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) the duo of Penny and Bolt foil his evil plans every time, getting closer to finding where Penny’s dad is being held and once and for all foiling the plans of the criminal genius Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!).
At least, that’s what Bolt thinks. The reality is that all of that is a highly rated television show. In order to get a more natural performance out of the canine star, the Director (Lipton) has gone to great lengths to make the dog believe that the jeopardy is real and that his super powers are genuine. Every night at the end of shooting, Penny escorts Bolt to his trailer where he rests, occasionally getting tormented by a pair of cat actors who play the pets of the cat-aleptic Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!). Penny is not thrilled about this; she would rather spend time with her dog, but her smarmy agent (Greg Germann) convinces her that this is best for her career. However, the network is becoming restless; the ratings are slipping and people are getting tired of the same old formula; girl gets in trouble, Bolt saves the day.
The Director comes up with an episode which ends with the maniacal Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) successfully kidnapping Penny. Instead of Penny accompanying Bolt to his trailer, it’s a trainer in heavy padding looking not unlike one of the tyrannical Dr. Calico’s (BWAHAHAHA!) henchmen. In a moment of opportunistic synchronicity, Bolt escapes only to accidentally knock himself out and fall into a package filled with Styrofoam packing for a cross-country journey to New York.
Once in the Big Apple, he tries to find Penny but nobody seems to know who he is (New Yorkers are apparently too busy watching “Inside the Actors Studio”). A trio of clueless pigeons sends Bolt to Mittens (Essman), a feline con artist who has the pigeons giving her a cut of their food in exchange for not being clawed to pieces. Bolt, thinking that Mittens is an operative of the fiendish Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!) drags Mittens along for the ride back to California after a desperate Mittens, seeing “Hollywood, California” on Bolt’s dog tag (it’s a good thing cats can read) steers the heroic canine in that direction.
The two embark on a journey across country joined by an astonishingly obese hamster named Rhino (Walton) who does know who Bolt is but like Bolt believes that the television show is real. Bolt’s powers are mysteriously not working; Bolt blames it on the Styrofoam which he has reasoned has some sort of dampening power, obviously a product of the dangerous Dr. Calico (BWAHAHAHA!). The dashing dog must learn to be a hero as an ordinary dog.
This is the first Disney feature to be filmed in 3D and they use the technology wisely, making the 3D a more naturalistic part of the film rather than as a gimmick. Occasionally things come at you in flinch-inducing 3D glory but for the most part it simply adds some depth to the screen.
The voice actors are mostly unknown; only Cyrus and Travolta have any notoriety. Strangely, Travolta is a bit flat as Bolt. Bolt is determined to find Penny, but Travolta reads his lines almost in a monotone. Much better are Essman, who gives the abandoned and wounded Mittens street smarts and a curious dignity. Some of the most emotionally effective scenes are hers; even the climax doesn’t resonate as well as Essman’s work.
Now that Disney and Pixar have joined forces we might see the features from both animation studios start to look a bit alike, and there is definitely a Pixar stamp on this. It isn’t up to the quality of Pixar’s best work, not by a long shot. Still, it’s pleasant enough entertainment, sure to keep the kids happy and satisfied and while the adults might find themselves shifting in their chairs once in awhile, there’s enough here to make it worth their while as well.
WHY RENT THIS: The story never drags and carries a clear emotional center. Susie Essman is super as Mittens. The relationship between Penny and Bolt is heartwarming, charming and authentic. The Bond-like TV show sequences almost make you wish that such a show actually existed.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Assuming your kids will let you pass on this, it doesn’t really stand out in a crowded field of animated features. Its pleasant entertainment, mainly aimed at kids but with little appeal to more sophisticated tastes.
FAMILY VALUES: Absolutely perfect for all audiences.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The number on Bolt’s dog tag is actually the street address of Disney’s Burbank animation studios.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: A 4-minute animated short starring the lovable hamster that must save the kidnapped Bolt and Penny in “Super Rhino.”
FINAL RATING: 7/10
TOMORROW: I Served the King of England