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It’s a little strange to me that it took Pixar becoming Disney’s new animation studio before the Mouse House itself started releasing new animated films of quality. Starting with the highly enjoyable Meet the Robinsons, Disney has carried on the eccentric comedic bent with this year’s Bolt. This is no Pixar film, don’t get me wrong, but it is very entertaining. Trying its best to capture the heart prevalent in each of their films, Bolt succeeds with a marginal surface sentimentality, tugging at the heart-strings without the subtle touch those Luxor lamp guys use effortlessly. However, where the emotion may not be as deep, the comedy is more manic and crazed, bringing the belly laughs with its head-shaking absurdity. That lightness, that ability to never take itself too seriously, goes a long way to making up for whatever shortcomings it has in other areas.

I’ll get the voice work out of the way quick. Miley Cyrus is decent and thankfully not included very much as the film deals with Bolt’s search to find her Penny. As my friend said, she sounds like she’s been smoking twenty packs a day for the last forty years, and she’s only sixteen. I’m not trying to badmouth her, she just has that sultry rasp in her voice and I just don’t really like it. She isn’t asked to do too much and I’m sure her inclusion will help bring people in the doors, so I’m ok with it. Next comes John Travolta as our hero dog. You know what? He isn’t half bad. The fact that this stunt dog believes he possesses all the superpowers his television character has allows for Travolta to do what he does best … parody himself. The unrelenting ego and desire to save his “person” leads to some humorous situations and the guy kinda hits it out of the park.

As for the rest—it’s a Disney movie. They get top-notch vocal talent and it works. No one stands out too much and that’s a good thing because it should be about the story and characters not the actors behind the scenes. With that said, Susie Essman and especially Mark Walton steal the show. True their roles, Mittens the alley cat and Rhino the ball-rolling hamster, are written to succeed on hilarious levels, but you have to give credit to the delivery and timing on the part of the talent. Mittens’ sarcastic wit and stone-hearted façade hiding her vulnerability works wonders as the foil to such a strong, brash Bolt leading the way. She is a con artist always attempting to talk her way out of trouble and it only adds to the story’s enjoyment. Rhino, on-the-other-hand, is the epitome of the wildcard. His manic excitement and hyper-attitude bring the biggest laughs, making him the most lovable and probably biggest commodity marketing-wise this film has. The one-liners, (Bolt: “There will be danger” / Rhino: “I eat danger for breakfast” / Bolt: “Are you hungry?” / Rhino: “STARVING!!!”); the impossibly asinine events like him actually getting a ladder at one point … while in his ball; and the facial/body actions, (swinging and throwing his body into the wall of his ball or his crazed bulging eyes and crooked bucktoothed grin), only add to his absolute greatness. But it is a greatness that only works in small doses as a companion to the real plotline … so please Disney, do not give him a spin-off film.

Maybe I should speak about the story somewhat? It really is all right there in the trailer, but just in case I’ll summarize a bit. Basically a young girl named Penny finds a dog in the pet store and becomes best pals with him. They are such good friends that they end up doing a television show together, (just go with it), and in order for that show to be successful, the film crew and Penny herself must make it seem as though Bolt is really saving the day. By making this canine believe he is risking his life for his owner, he gives the most realistic performance anyone has ever seen in a dog. However, because of this ruse, an episode-ending cliffhanger concluding with the girl being kidnapped by the evil cat loving Dr. Calico causes problems. Appearances must be kept: Bolt believes Penny is missing and, by sheer dumb luck, he escapes, ends up in a shipping package, and lands in New York City. So, in order to save the day, he enlists the help of a cat hostage, Mittens, because cats are evil, vile creatures that do the Doctor’s biding, and a restless, TV-fanatic hamster to make the journey west to Hollywood. If only the Styrofoam peanuts didn’t act as his kryptonite, it would have been so much easier.

It all becomes a very endearing buddy-film as this trio of unlikely friends becomes just that. Everything can be guessed from the start and nothing new or original really takes place. But if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Bolt works on a simple comedic level giving cute characters and exciting set-pieces to enthrall the children while also allowing parents and older siblings a bit of escapism into a world that allows them to forget their troubles for ninety minutes or so. It is so blatantly an amalgam of previous movies that one of its best inclusions comes from three separate groups of pigeons—NYC goodfellas, LA surfer-dudes, and Texas wranglers. Their completely frivolous roles serve as nothing more than comedic relief, not only rivaling those pesky penguins from Madagascar, but I do believe one-upping them. It is the little things like them that make Bolt a success, tiny flourishes that help keep the smile on your face while they distract you from the overall mediocre, done before story at its core.

Bolt 8/10

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photography:
Scenes from Walt Disney Pictures’ Bolt (2008) Copyright © Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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