Sunday, February 08, 2009

Film Review: 'Bolt' – 8.5/10

Film Review: Adventure · Comedy (2008)
Written by Joé McKen on Sunday, February 08, 2009

Mittens the cat (voiced by Suzie Essman) doesn’t seem keen on the trip with the delusional dog and hamster in Disney’s 2008 film Bolt.

Bolt is Disney’s first PG-rated 3D-animated film since Dinosaur (2000), which I have very little memory of, and that is a sad thing, considering the skill and quality put into this film. Perhaps they were trying to fit in Pixar’s vein of quality over popularity (even though Pixar manages to achieve both), or perhaps their skill and artistry is simply maturing (which has yet to happen to the Animation Studios at DreamWorks, sadly); either way, they’ve shown that even someone other than Pixar can make an animated film that is both highly popular, and high in terms of quality, enjoyment and overall reach.

Bolt tells the story of the eponymous big-headed dog (voiced by John Travolta), who lives in Hollywood and is the star of the also-eponymous highly-popular TV series where he incarnates a superdog with bionic abilities: he can run faster than sound, can jump dozens of feet, has heat and laser visions (one wasn’t enough?), can bend solid metal bars as though they were of rubber, and can bark loud enough to create a decent-sized crater (and obliterate any pesky villains in it). He can’t fly, though; that would be ridiculous. His master (whom he calls ‘his person’) is a young girl named Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus), and they share a close bond that already practically assures two plot points to follow: they will be tragically separated, and then triumphantly reunited. (Hey, it’s not a spoiler if you can see it coming.)

There’s just one problem, though: Bolt isn’t aware he’s an actor. He’s genuinely convinced he truly has all those superpowers for the sake of the TV show (thankfully, he’s never needed to use them in ‘real-life’ before), which prohibits him from leading a normal dog’s life. He’s basically a guard dog, but without the ‘dog’ bit in it.

Soon Penny is ‘kidnapped’ in the show, but Bolt, thinking it’s real, manages to break loose to try and find and rescue her – and accidentally ends up getting shipped across the country to the East Coast. That could be problematic.

And so the point of the movie is to follow along with Bolt as he treks across America to find his way back to Hollywood to find and ‘rescue’ Penny from the evil Green-Eyed Man (villain in his show), and along the way he garners two ‘allies’: Mittens (voiced by Suzie Essman), a heavily-reluctant ‘prisoner’ female cat he forces into following him on his trip and with mannerisms and an attitude you can’t help but love, and Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton), a ball-rolling hamster with more enthusiasm for Bolt and his adventures than Mittens can handle. (Or anyone else, for that matter.)

This family film is a very decent story that stands out fairly well from the rest of the typical animated fodder, with plenty of cartoony cute characters for younger audiences as well as heartwarming sentimentality for older folk. Actually, the film seems to overflow with sentimentality every now and then; some of these touching scenes seem a bit overdone for my personal taste, as though they tried too hard to touch the audience. It certainly isn’t necessarily a bad thing per se, it doesn’t really ruin the mood or the film, but one does notice it when they’re being grabbed by the heart instead of by the soul, which is what good touching scenes are supposed to do.

The animation, while nothing groundbreaking, is nonetheless very high in quality and detail, perhaps even on-par with Pixar’s works (which is certainly a high altar to reach in the industry). The style is cartoony (big heads, large lovable eyes, etc.) but doesn’t detract from the experience, nor does it feel gimmicky or childish. The score by John Powell is highly dynamic, ranging from tender sweet moments to high-octane action/chase passages, and it works superbly.

Bolt is proof that anyone, even Disney, can fashion together a great Animated film if they put their minds and hearts to it and do it right, and hopefully it’ll serve as an example to them, and other Animation studios, of how movies should be made as to entertain most possible audiences: those looking for cute cartoons as well as those in search of a deeper, more moving experience. I highly recommend this film to whomever wants either of these – or both, preferably – and it shall make a fine addition to any movie-lover’s index.

For giving us a friendly experience that’s as comedic and light-hearted as it is touching and entertaining, I give Disney’s Bolt a surprisingly high 8.5 deadly styrofoam peanuts out of 10.

Bolt: John Travolta (voice) • Mittens: Suzie Essman (voice) • Rhino: Mark Walton (voice) • Penny: Miley Cyrus (voice)
Crew & Credits
Director(s): Chris Williams, Byron Howard • Writer(s): Chris Williams, Dan Fogelman. Idea by Chris Sanders. • Original Score: John Powell
General Information
Distributed by: Walt Disney Pictures • Released: November 21, 2008 (US) • Running Time: 96 mins • Budget: US$150 million • Rated: PG


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