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Bolt (2008) – Movie Review

Bolt movie poster

Written by: Dan Fogelman & Chris Williams
Directed by: Byron Howard & Chris Williams
Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell

My Advice: Don’t miss it. Kids or no.

Bolt (voiced by Travolta) is Rin Tin Tin and Lassie meets a cybernetic Swiss army knife. He’s The Six Million Dollar Pooch. Found in a pet rescue place by his person, Penny (voiced by Cyrus), he was altered by Penny’s father (voiced by Ronn Moss) to be the ultimate in canine protection. He’s indestructible. He’s super fast. He has a Super BarkTM. And he also has no idea that any of this is a television program, staged so that he is the most convincing animal actor in history. Trouble is, because he’s not in on the joke, he thinks that by breaking out of the studio and making a break for it, he’s trying to save Penny. Now he has to find his way home–and the only difference between this and Homeward Bound is Bolt is a bit…unprepared for the outside world.

[ad#longpost]This is the best action adventure movie for kids I’ve seen in a long, long time. And I’m sure Disney are trying to figure out where the hell they went wrong–open it before Thanksgiving, slap Miley Cyrus’ name on it, call it gold–and they wound up with $27M in box office. Not bad, but they also got worked over by a bunch of pouty vampires, so go figure. I know these days the tendency is to wait for the DVD–movie prices are such that you buy two tickets, you’ve bought the DVD–but give this a second look. Please. Disney Animation did a CG movie properly without the Pixar name on it (apart from executive producer John Lasseter’s) and they need to be rewarded with coin. Otherwise, it’s back to more cheapquels and other shit like that. And who apart from six year olds who don’t know any better want that?

First, we saw the film in Digital 3-D. Which is the first time I’ve experienced that. And it’s incredible. My problem with 3-D is that it’s never a crisp effect. With old 3-D or even newer 3-D (i.e., no red and blue), I can’t ever seem to get placed so that it’s not fuzzy in places. As a result, I can’t ever quite get completely into the film because the fuzziness is nagging at me. This is probably due to the fact that, sans contacts, my life is fuzzy anyway so I try to shy away from that. Anyway, the Digital 3-D they had for this was brilliant. And it wasn’t just Dr. Tongue-esque things being pitched in your face, it was everything from the Walt Disney logo in front of the castle to just the depth of everything. Clear as a bell. I urge everybody to see as much as possible in Digital 3-D. Because it rocks balls.

Second, the story is a nice blend of The Truman Show and any number of delusional hero movies, coupled with cute animals–so it’s derivative enough and funny enough to be welcome. And third, the vocal cast is impressive. Travolta is quite the hero, Miley Cyrus makes the most of a character who’s basically at home and is avoiding most of the action–but it’s the supporting cast that’s really choice. Malcolm McDowell as the TV show bad guy? James Lipton as the director of the show? Brilliant. Hell, they even got Randy Savage for a bit part. But it’s Mark Walton that’s the standout. He is the voice of my new hero, the slightly mental hamster called Rhino. Rhino is everything you wanted from the trailers and more. They didn’t even touch upon his best lines, like when he begins running down the terrible things he’s going to do to a full grown human. And it’s little throwaway bits like when Bolt is running to the rescue, Rhino is rolling behind him, calling out “I’m on your six!” He is my guardo camino. And Walton is brilliant–and he’s not an actor by trade…he’s one of the animators. This means, of course, that we have a worthy successor to the late, great Joe “Heimlich” Ranft.

As an aside, Disney, I really want a new Rhino short on the DVD release of this. And I would buy the hell out of a t-shirt with Rhino on the back of it with the words “I’M ON YOUR SIX” beneath him. It wouldn’t even need to be black–any other color I’d probably just buy it out of respect.

And let me say this about the story as well–trying not to give to much away in the process. Lots of films want to take an extraordinary character and teach him that it’s better to be ordinary. And speaking as somebody who wants to grow up to be extraordinary–this annoys the shit out of me. This is not a lesson for kids, sorry. If we want to make them believe it’s better to be ordinary, we’ll put them through the public school system. But no, this movie dodges that particular bullet by showing that the ordinary can be extraordinary–that it’s not necessarily settling for less. That is a great lesson.

I figured I would enjoy the film, frankly, going into it. What was unexpected is how much I enjoyed it. I’m still grinning about Rhino’s best lines here almost twelve hours later. And I would watch the hell out of an animated series based around Bolt’s fictional adventures in the show–if every episode were like what they showed in the film, you would too. Does it reinvent animation as we know it? No. But considering the giant crater non-Pixar Disney animation has needed to haul itself out of, it’s a welcome return to form for the main studio. This is what we want, Disney. Now you got me excited about your stuff again. Well done.


  • Our whole family (Me, the Mrs., and our 5+-year-old twin girls) loved this flick, and HOPEFULLY this weekend when there are more youngsters out and about it will get the box office it deserves.

    It appeared that perhaps Disney didn’t pre-screen this? I saw no Ebert review, e.g.

  • Dan: You’re right: Ebert has no review up for it. But it’s not like Disney not to pre-screen things. I mean, major releases that don’t suck. But I’m removed from that preview screening thing, so I can’t say for certain.

  • Me and my clan went and saw this yesterday, and I concur – this was a brilliant film. However, your concern that the big D will go back to the old ways (well more recent ways that is) I think is unfounded. John Lasseter is in charge there now, and one of the first things he did in 2006 was sit down with the Pixar directors and watch the first cuts of Bolt (then called American Dog) – the Pixar guys made a ton of changes to the story and replaced the original director. So, in short, the reason it feels like a Pixar movie, is because they fixed it.

    The cool thing about John L is that he understands that the story comes first the tech is only there to make the story telling possible.

    Check out the wiki entry for it if you want to see what the original plot was.

    The T-shirt idea is brilliant!

  • Jon, yes, this is what we call “hyperbole to drive people to action.” :) That being said, any corporation, even one led by one such as Lasseter, must be watched carefully for signs of madness.

  • >>any corporation, even one led by one such as Lasseter, must be watched carefully for signs of madness

    The NeedCoffee Inc crew watching for signs of madness is like Randle P. McMurphy reporting on the mental health of Jack Torrance. :)

    (Yeah I used 2 JN characters, but that is what came to mind)