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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Disneyear: Bolt (2008)

For a while, Disney was trying computer animation for their films. As ambitious as the idea was, the films themselves were for the most part lackluster. Dinosaur came off as disappointing, you all know how I feel about Chicken Little, and while I think Meet the Robinsons is okay, it does seem to focus more on style over substance. So for Disney's fourth try in this medium, it seems that they finally got a hit with their computer animation: Bolt. I'll admit, when I first saw some concept art for this film on the Internet, I thought it looked cool. It had this neat idea to it and these interesting visuals. It was also supposed to be directed by Chris Sanders, the director of Lilo & Stitch. That was hook, line, and sinker. Then I heard that Sanders left and a new director changed it a lot. My heart sank. Then I saw the trailers for the final version and thought, "well, I kind of know this story already. It's The Truman Show with a dog. And big-budget action scenes." So I decided to skip it at first. That and the advertising played like mad that Miley Cyrus was going to be in this didn't help me turn. That was until a lot of my friends told me to watch it. Well, I decided to rent it one night, sat down, and... it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I was kind of surprised when I first saw it. Kind of. Then I sat down and watched it again years later for this review. Now what do I think of it? Let's turn the channel to Disney's Bolt.

The movie begins with a little girl named Penny (Cyrus) at a pet store. She finds a White Shepard puppy and adopts him. Five years later, we see Penny and her dog Bolt (John Travolta) are the stars of their own television show. Part of what makes the show successful is that apparently the dog has never ventured outside the TV studio before and the director keeps him locked up in a trailer so that he believes that everything that happens in the show is real (including his superpowers), thus the acting from the dog seems real. One day, an episode ends in a cliffhanger and Bolt escapes to try and save Penny. He ends up in a package being sent from Hollywood to New York, still thinking his superpowers from his show are real. He finds a black cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) who thinks that the cat is an agent working for the villain from his show: Dr. Calico, who has cat minions. Confused and reluctant, Mittens is forced to help Bolt find Penny. To make sure they find her, Bolt ties Mittens to a leash on his collar so he can keep an eye on her. After getting out of a moving truck on the way to Hollywood, Bolt finds that some of his powers aren't working and that he begins to feel pain and hunger. Still thinking he's in the show, he thinks that Styrofoam packaging is what depleted his powers. So Bolt and Mittens later meet a hamster in a ball humorously named Rhino (Mark Walton) that watches Bolt's show all the time and calls himself his biggest fan. Mittens finds out that Bolt's from TV and tries to convince him that nothing he thought before is reality. After some circumstances and rescuing from a pound, Bolt begins to understand that he's just a normal dog. With Mittens' help, Bolt begins to cope with it as well as learn how to be a normal dog. Still thinking of Penny, they finally make it to Hollywood only to see that Bolt's show replaced him with a lookalike. Bolt thinks Penny's affections are for the doppelganger and leaves broken-hearted. But the it's really the opposite as Penny misses her dog and while shooting the next episode, the studio catches on fire and Bolt manages to save Penny. In the end, Penny leaves the show to live her life as a normal girl with her mom, Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino.  

Story-wise, there's nothing remarkably new about Bolt. Like I said earlier, it's basically The Truman Show mixed with Homeward Bound. By itself, this isn’t a bad thing. “Character learns that the world isn’t what he or she believed it to be” is a very broad story premise with a lot of room for different interpretations. Sadly, Bolt is a very by-the-book take on this narrative. But it still has charm and heart to it, specifically with Bolt's arch. It's entertaining, it's heart-felt, has some great characters, has some good moments, and has some nice visuals to go along with it. It sort of starts off goofy with over-the-top action sequences, but it becomes more engaging once the animals start talking, surprisingly enough.

Bolt himself is a decent character. The fact that he thinks his superpowers from his show are real leads to some good jokes, like how he comes to "realize" that Styrofoam depletes his powers. And I do like it that Mittens has to teach him all about what normal dogs do. They're great together. But John Travolta's voice is an odd choice. While he doesn't do a bad job with the character, I still feel like he's just doing a voice for an animated character. The same goes for Miley Cyrus. I can sense that the character misses Bolt after he is separated from her, but again, I'm aware Cyrus is just speaking into a microphone. She's not in the film that long, so I'll give her a pass. Mittens has a lot of funny moments, especially when teaching Bolt about the real world. But my favorite by far is Rhino. He just makes me laugh whenever he's on screen. Walton does do a great job with the character, but I can picture Jack Black voicing this character to make it more convincing. But he's still awesome!

The stuff I never look forward to in the film is everything in the TV studio. First of all, where's P.E.T.A. on this whole situation? Shouldn't there have been someone there from P.E.T.A. to make sure Bolt has a healthy life and made sure he's taken care of? Wouldn't someone had reported this method acting method long ago? Second, Penny's agent is really annoying. The guy never stops talking and always barges in on the wrong moment. At least he's not in the film that long. Third, when the studio caught on fire, didn't these stage hands have any fire extinguishers on standby? How is it that this place got a free pass when there's no friggin' fire extinguishers?!? That's really dangerous! Fourth, the scene with the fire seems kind of forced to be honest. At least it has a happy ending... Yeah, I don't like this TV studio at all. Goofy would put this studio in better hands!

Beware of the non-stop talking agent! Beware!
Despite a few shortcomings, Bolt is still an entertaining film. I just have my own issues with it. I'd love to see how the film would go if Disney allowed Chris Sanders to do his original draft (which included a one-eyed cat and a human sized radioactive rabbit), but for what I got, it's still decent, Better than what I thought I was going to get. The strength of this film comes from the comedy, characters, and some heart over it's familiar, been-done story. Even if the story is a little by-the-book, some fun characters and good comedy mixed with nice animation make it worth at least one watch. See it and come to your own conclusions.

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