"Bolt" Review

Title: Bolt
Director: Chris Williams, Byron Howard
Starring:  John Travolta, Miley Cyrus
Studio: The Walt Disney Company
Genre(s): Comedy
Rated: PG (For some mild action and peril)

Welcome back Disney. Far too long have you been in Pixar’s shadows. The last big hit you had was with “Lilo & Stitch,” a movie that stood out in a sea of duds and lessor attempts, and that was back in 2002. That movie was based off an idea by Chris Sanders, a longtime animator who hit box office gold. Now, after “Home on the Range,” “Chicken Little,” and several other poor attempts to reclaim your former glory, you have brought us “Bolt,” a movie about a dog who run faster then a speeding bullet, is more powerful then a locomotive, and able to take down armies with a single bark. Or, at least, he’d like to think so. Though Bolt (John Travolta) spends his days hanging out with his “person” Penny (Miley Cyrus) and helping her fight the evil Green Eyed Scientist, he’s really filming a hit TV show called (what else) Bolt.

But this is no ordinary TV show. It’s kind of like an animated version of “The Truman Show,” except in this case the show producers try to keep up the illusion to the dog that the show is real. When Penny is kidnapped in a cliffhanger ending though, it’s up to Bolt to go save her. Or so he thinks. As you probably know, Bolt has no powers. So instead of making a serious progress to save Penny, he spends his time being overly annoying to a black cat named Mittens, who he believes knows where Penny is (because, you know, cats are linked to mad scientists). Their adventure leads them across America, discovering many eccentric creatures such as wise talking pigeons and a hamster in a rolling ball named Rhino. Though short of an original story, “Bolt” gets high marks for taking an average sounding screenplay and making it work.

The idea was thought up by aforementioned Chris Sanders, who was supposed to direct the film as well, until John Lasseter read an early draft of the script and said it was “too quirky for it’s own good.” Thus Sanders was let go, and Disney had to produce the film with a couple of new comers. And while I would have been very interested to see what Sanders would have done with the film (the cat in his version had an eye patch, which just made her look cool), I’m happy with the final result. This is actually a good example of how effective movies can be. Here we have one of the silliest ideas for a movie all year, and yet it’s written with enough wit and heart that we come to grow invested in it. I’m sure John Travolta could be making movies that make him more money, but his performance of Bolt is filled with the right amount of innocence and braveness that makes him so likely.

We know he’s supposed to be annoying, but you’ve got to love him for his loyalty to his person. Mittens the cat also gets points for having a sympathetic back story, while Rhino provides the token best friend role. On the final end of the spectrum is Penny, played by Miley Cyrus. Truth be told, I don’t think Cyrus will ever be a star, and her getting top billing for this role only emphasizes that fact. It’s not that Penny is a poor character per se, but she’s the least interesting thing is this movie, and is more of a McGuffen then anything else. Hiring a regular high school girl to voice this character would have wielded the same results for a fraction of the price. But now I’m nick picking, as this doesn’t matter too much in the long run. The point is “Bolt” is great family fun and one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. Just make sure that, as an added bonus, you see this movie in Digital 3D, for a more three-dimensional atmosphere.

Parents have to worry about only a little bit of violence, and even that is limited to explosions and a fire near the end. Should be fine for ages 5 and up.