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"A formula that has worked ever since Lassie came home in 1943."
 
"Family friendly, simple, full of cute and cuddly characters, and features quality animation that is spot on."
"Interesting enough to make the obvious and predictable less so."
Bolt  

Cast

Bolt: John Travolta
Mittens: Susie Essman
Penny: Miley Cyrus
Rhino: Mark Walton
Dr. Calico: Malcolm McDowell
The Director: James Lipton
The Agent: Greg Germann
Review November 2008

For canine superhero and television star, Bolt, ignorance is bliss. When not relaxing in the comfy confines of his personal trailer, he's out saving the world from the Green-Eyed Man and protecting his owner from danger every day. But what he doesn't know is that it's all make-believe, especially his super powers. And when he's accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York, outside the only world he knows, the real adventure begins. In Disney's latest animated adventure, "Bolt," the focus is on simplicity in story and salability in character. A cute puppy is lost and must find his way back home - a formula that has worked ever since Lassie came home in 1943. Yet, in spite of its lack of plot developments, "Bolt" remains surprisingly entertaining. It offers unique characters, a 3-D experience, and a wholesome, thrilling adventure for one and all.

The story opens at an animal shelter, whereby an American White Shepherd puppy named Bolt is rescued by a young girl named Penny. Five years later, the two find themselves on a hit television show, in which Bolt showcases superpowers and skills to routinely thwart the evil plans of an arch villain known as the Green-Eyed Man. However, unbeknownst to Bolt, the real evil plans are those from the show's producers, who have sheltered him from the outside world. To the extent that he believes what happens on the soundstage is real life. Even his super powers, which are carefully timed with explosive results. And therefore, he remains out of touch with the real world and what it's like to be a normal dog.

So, after filming a season ending cliffhanger in which Penny is kidnapped, Bolt breaks out of his trailer to rescue her. But in doing so, hits his head on a windowpane and falls unconscious into a box of Styrofoam. The box is then shipped from Hollywood to New York. Once in New York, Bolt awakens and must navigate his new surroundings with care. Most importantly, he realizes his super powers no longer work, possibly the effect of all that Styrofoam! A fish out of water, he solicits the help of a reluctant alley cat named Mittens and a fanatical hamster named Rhino to return to Hollywood and rescue his rightful owner from danger.

"Bolt" represents another solid entry in the Disney catalogue. It's family friendly, simple, full of cute and cuddly characters, and features quality animation that is spot on. From the opening sequence in which Penny and Bolt are racing through town, narrowly avoiding henchmen on motorcycles and helicopters to the finale in a fire ravaged studio, the movement, the choreography, and style are fluid, energetic, and colorful. And when the action gets too hyper or too fast, they slow things down so you can see a tongue flapping in the wind or how much time is left on a ticking time bomb.

Along with the superb cast of returning characters a la Alan Rickman, Gary Oldman, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, etc., Further props go to Disney for the 3-D upgrade - a visual delight that enhances the whole experience, bringing characters and backgrounds to life without much loss of clarity. Images pop with vibrancy in front of classic, pastel looking scenes. Using new rendering technology, Disney Digital 3-D represents a sample of bigger and better things to come.

Written by Chris Williams and Dan Fogelman, "Bolt" represents storytelling at its simplest. From a dog's point of view, a girl meets a dog. The dog grows up in a fictional world. The dog is placed in the real world. And then must find his way back home. Or as Mindy, the Network executive asserts: "The show's too predictable. The girl's in danger, the dog saves her from the creepy English guy, we get it. There's always a happy ending." Much like Lassie, formula works best when kept this simple. And when it understands its audience. Throw in some unique elements like superpowers, the movies, and characters like a street smart alley cat and a hyped up hamster, and you have all the necessary ingredients of a cookie cutter screenplay. No frills.

Yet, while the story itself has limited originality, the character voicings shine. The star of the show, a cute little dog named Bolt, is delivered with confidence and warmth by John Travolta. Susie Essman adds a degree of skepticism and reluctance as the abandoned alley cat, Mittens. But the real joy here is in the rabid hamster fan boy, Rhino, voiced by animator Mark Walton. With such energy and fervor, one only wishes you could package it up in a bottle and market it. After being cooped up in a cage in front of a television his entire life, the enthusiasm and adrenaline are on full display as the trio sit atop a highway overpass and Rhino exclaims, "Let it begin! Let it begin!" from within his ball.

In the end, Lassie saves the day, returns home, and is re-united with her owner. We know the story and the outcome and yet, are still moved. Good formula films make you forget the formula and keep you in your seat. Films like "Bolt," where the execution in voice, animation, and simple storytelling are refined, interesting enough to make the obvious and predictable less so. Just as Bolt hurts himself and ponders the strange red liquid coming out of his body while Mittens adds: "It's called blood, hero!" Adorably naive, Bolt inquires, "Do I need it?"



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