Bolt, the new computer-animated family film from Walt Disney Animation Studios (a separate entity from Pixar) is one of the nicest surprises of the season. Unlike last year’s entertaining but uneven Meet the Robinsons, this one is funny, truly witty and genuinely thrilling. It’s no Finding Nemo, but it comes close to Pixar-level perfection.
The story is a canine version of The Truman Show: a talented German Shepherd (voiced by John Travolta) is unaware that his adventures with Penny, his owner (voiced by Miley Cyrus), in which he displays his many super powers, are all manipulated and part of a popular TV show. When Bolt believes that Penny has been kidnapped, he goes AWOL and sets out to find her, only to discover that his “super bark” doesn’t have much bite in the real world.
The animation is breathtaking and the characters are lovable and cleverly conceived. Travolta is endearing as the heroic Bolt and Cyrus is just-right as his human companion. But the film is stolen by Rhino the hamster (voiced by Mark Walton) and Mittens the cat (voiced by Susie Essman). While Walton and Essman don’t have the wattage of their co-stars, their hilarious and heartfelt work elevates the film, making all the scenes with Bolt, Rhino and Mittens inventively hilarious and something special. The vocal performances complement the innovations of the animators, who make every strand of fur vivid and real.
There are gentle swipes made at shallow Hollywood types, but the film is at its best when it’s in action, particularly the first scene, one of the most exciting sequences of the year; the opening and a set piece aboard a train raise the bar so high, the relatively straightforward ending is a letdown.
Yet the emphasis is on friendship, not mayhem, and the scenes of Bolt traveling the country and learning from his companions what it means to be a dog (after living a hermetically sealed life) are what give the movie its requisite warmth. There are nice, timeless Disney lessons to be learned about embracing who you truly are and the importance of loyalty. Children will savor it while adults will be impressed by how exciting and uproariously funny it is. MTW