Film review – Bolt (2008)

Bolt is the new computer generated animation from the Walt Disney Animation Studios, conceived and produced under the guidance of John Lasseter who directed the Pixar classics Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Toy Story 2 and Cars. While Bolt doesn’t quite contain the same charm and slick storytelling that defines the Pixar films, it is still a mostly enjoyable film that should appeal to all ages.

Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is a dog that stars in a hit TV show as a super-powered dog who routinely saves the world. However, in order to maintain a sense of realism, Bolt has been made to believe that his TV life of danger and adventure is actually for real. So when Bolt is accidentally dumped in the middle of New York he is oblivious to the fact that he doesn’t have superpowers and he is convinced that his co-star Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) needs to be rescued. As Bolt travels across America he is reluctantly aided by Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman for TVs Curb Your Enthusiasm), a cat he kidnaps, and Rhino (Mark Walton who also lent his voice to Chicken Little), a hyperactive hamster who also believes that Bolt really is an actual superhero.

Some of the ideas in the first half of the film about what constitutes good and bad are slightly worrying. Bolt, deluded as he is, is very much presented as the good guy and his blind obedience to Penny and ignorance of the world around him are presented as enduring characteristics. This sharply contrasts with Mittens and the other cat characters who are presented as all smart but nevertheless gleefully wicked. Bolt gets dangerously close to the Forrest Gump mentality of presenting obedience and ignorance as admirable qualities while intelligence is viewed with suspicion. Also, Bolt’s completely kidnapping and tormenting of Mittens is played for laughs, which is a little disconcerting.

Fortunately the filmmakers realise that they could not sustain an entire film with gags about Bolt thinking he is a super-dog when he isn’t and opt to have him become aware of his situation about half way through the film. At this point Bolt stops becoming Mittens tormentor and Bolt becomes a far nicer film. The sequences of Mittens teaching Bolt how to behave like a real dog are a lot of fun and the film settles in being a film about accepting yourself for who you are, learning to believe in yourself and the importance of friendship and empathy for others.

Overall Bolt is a lot of fun and a wonderful film to look at. The computer animation is glorious and the film contains several action sequences that are exciting and inventively constructed. It is definitely worth trying to see Bolt in a cinema that can screen it in 3D as it’s incredible depth-of-field and attention to detail make full use of the 3D technology.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2009