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Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Starring: John Travolta ... Bolt (voice)

Miley Cyrus ... Penny (voice)

Susie Essman ... Mittens (voice)

Mark Walton ... Rhino (voice)

Malcolm McDowell ... Dr. Calico (voice)

James Lipton ... The Director (voice)

Greg Germann ... The Agent (voice)

Diedrich Bader ... Veteran Cat (voice)

Nick Swardson ... Blake (voice)

J.P. Manoux ... Tom (voice)

Dan Fogelman ... Billy (voice)

Kari Wahlgren ... Mindy (voice)

Chloe Moretz ... Young Penny (voice)

Randy Savage ... Thug (voice)

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Synopsis: Bolt tells the story of a dog who is convinced that his role as a super dog is reality. When he is ripped from his world of fantasy, and action by his own doing. His own obsession with his owner and keeping her protected from the green eyed man of the television show he works on completely absorbs his life. This takes him to the point of no return when he believes that she has been kidnapped, and he accidentally gets packaged and shipped to New York city in pursuit of his owner. This is when the story unfolds, and he goes through a transitional period where he learns that he is as super as every other dog. His disbelief of his abilities being non existent fuels a lot of different emotional changes, and eventually comes to a reality of who he really is. This all culminates when he finds his owner and reunites with her in the action packed climax of the movie.

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Review: Review by Rick Tym ,

Everyone knows that Pixar is the studio to beat when it comes to 3D computer-animated features. Everyone also knows that for the longest time, Disney “presented” such Pixar classics as Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. That all changed at the onset of 2006 when Disney announced that it was buying the 3D animation powerhouse, doing so in May of the same year to the tune of 7.4 billion dollars. This entire hullabaloo was a result of behind-the-scenes disagreements between upper management at both companies over distribution plans, most famously for the film Toy Story 2 which was originally slated for direct-to-DVD release by Disney, which therefore according to the megalomaniacal mouse did not count towards a three-picture deal between themselves and Pixar even when the decision to go ahead with a full theatrical release was made. After further cat-fighting and bloody noses over issues like these and other creative control concerns, Mickey and company decided to throw a bunch of money at Pixar stockholders and go on with the newly-acquired studio under their umbrella, marching on in the hyphenated form of “Disney-Pixar.” Many Pixar purists probably still decry this merger and even casual fans may smell something a little stank in the air when considering the business venture but the new “Disney-Pixar” did manage to create one of the best 3D computer-animated films ever, which arrived last year with the introduction of a lonely little robot named Wall-E, so it can’t be all bad.

Disney, however, does not seem to be content to simply sit back and let their 2006 acquisition pump out the hits for them. The mouse-eared corporate strategist has been working on some computer-animated features of its own, hoping to create their own “new” classics that capture the fun, humor, heartstring-tugging and longevity of their former partner (and sometimes in-house rival) studio’s best efforts. And with their new release, put out under the “Disney”-only banner, they almost do and should be pretty proud of themselves, ‘cause three out of four ain’t bad.

Bolt starts out with a short introduction to film’s main doggy as a puppy in a pet store being chosen by a little girl named Penny. A clever slam-bang transition screen then informs us in pure action-adventure title font that five years have passed, and the dog and his owner are now a sort of tactical spy and action duo. Bolt (John Travolta) has been genetically re-engineered by Penny’s father to protect her from the nefarious world domination efforts of Dr. Calico (a great voice-acting job by Malcolm McDowell), who has recently taken him hostage. Penny (Miley Cyrus) and Bolt are determined to find her father and rescue him from the evil cat-loving genius, dodging his minions by using some nifty gadgetry and the scientifically-enhanced powers of the cute canine, which include lightning speed, heat vision and a super-bark which is particularly quite impressive. At the end of the day Bolt uses all his powers successfully to keep his owner safe from the forces of darkness and the two walk off into the sunset, waiting for their next adventure.

Only they don’t really walk off into the sunset. Penny takes Bolt to his actor’s trailer and spends some time trying to put him at ease before she has to leave for her next celebrity appointment. Bolt and Penny are real, but the circumstances surrounding them are not; they are stars of a hugely successful science-fiction/action series, and every effort is made to keep Bolt in the dark because, as The Director (James Lipton) says, if the dog believes it, then the audience believes it. Unfortunately ratings are slumping and his solution to end the currently filming episode with a cliffhanger sees Bolt confused and separated from Penny, for the first time not saving the day, and escaping because he truly believes she is in harm’s way. The pooch is transplanted via a shipping box and pink Styrofoam peanuts from Hollywood to New York and has to make his way home. Along the way he finds out he really doesn’t have superpowers, but makes some true friends in mangy alley cat Mittens (Susie Essman) and hamster-in-a-ball Rhino (Mark Walton).

First and foremost, Bolt is fantastic-looking movie. The 3D computer animation here is mostly flawless, with particular attention given to settings such as building facades and conversational backdrops. The first glimpse of Bolt as a puppy through the window of a pet store sets the stage right away for the level of detail shown throughout the running time. Another little accurate tidbit that can be noticed is the way the Xerox machine keeps spitting out copies of a lost dog flyer in an unfocused background as Penny’s agent tries to talk her into replacing Bolt, or the sheer realism of said copier’s control buttons and LCD interface shown in a close-up. (This reviewer has worked with and cursed copy machines a lot over the span of his “real” career, and those Start and Cancel buttons and touch screen are eerily realistic.) As usual, the people depicted seem to have that generic form that has become a staple of computer animation (particularly Pixar’s, what a coincidence), but the audience for films such as these should be conditioned to accept these “human” caricatures so there is no inherent distraction present because of it. Overall the level of detail shown is highly impressive, and while the cat and dog that accompany Bolt on his homeward journey look good, the dog himself looks great and is as believable as one could imagine in sound, movement and facial expressions. (You know, except when he talks. But that part’s not meant to be realistic.)

Speaking of Bolt’s running partners, the kitty Mittens and deranged hamster Rhino are excellent sidekicks. Mittens is a bit delusional but we soon find out that’s because she was left alone and became an outside cat because of necessity rather than desire. Rhino is a lot delusional because he has lived a sheltered life in a protective ball, sitting in front of the “magic box.” When he meets Bolt he proclaims him to be “totally and completely awesome,” the best the “magic box” has to offer. Mittens soon deduces and helps Bolt come to grips with the fact that he is not a super-dog, but rather a regular domesticated animal who just so happens to be a TV star. The way she reintroduces him to dog-dom is charming and grin-inducing but not too sweet, and even the Miley Cyrus song which accompanies the montage manages not to lay the saccharine on too heavily. All three, with their quirks, strengths and shortcomings become truly close while helping each other find their own ways in the world, whether the way concerns matters of the heart or simply finding their home. While Mittens is more of a straightforward fellow journeyer, Rhino is a really great character who dances the line between serious hamster and comic relief exceptionally well, never fully succumbing to all-out silliness due to his convictions when it comes to helping out friends. The little guy is a bit stuck in a fantasy world, most likely due to OD’ing on television, but he means well and really just wants to help out his buddy Bolt. He also provides the greatest moments of levity for adult and children with his physical pratfalls and sharp lines. (One of the best of these lines may be Rhino’s response to Bolt, who has just looked around the corner to see a guard while the two are infiltrating an animal shelter to save the captured Mittens. Bolt simply says, “There’s a guard.” Rhino answers, not missing a beat, “I’ll snap his neck.” Hilarious.) The supporting cast of Penny, Dr. Calico and others are serviceable (although a great and extremely agonizing depiction of a sleazy talent agent voiced by Greg Germann deserves extra recognition) but the animal character make up the heart of the film, and do it well.

Special mention must be made, though, of the true stars of the film who deserve some type of breakout roles before too long. These characters are also animals, and until now have been underappreciated and even despised by some. The East Coast and West Coast pigeons who attempt to aid Bolt on his journey are the untold highlights of this movie. Their clichéd mannerisms, from the “how ya doin’?” slightly confused New Yorker stereotype to the opportunistic, script-pitching fast-talking Hollywood wannabe, are played not as a dig but as homage to both parts of the country. (There are also Midwestern pigeons at the end of the film, but they are not given enough material to be nearly as enjoyable.) With any luck these birds will be seen again, but hopefully as the effective supporting characters that they excel so well at being, since a full-length feature may be a tad too much.

Of course, it’s Disney, so by film’s end Bolt will have learned that he can be a hero without superpowers and the three of them (dog, cat and hamster) will be sitting on a couch together posing for a Polaroid picture. That’s not a bad thing, though—there’s a reason the formula has worked for decades, and it still does here, inciting the requisite amount of sadness, fear and excitement at the story’s climax before the afore-mentioned epilogue. The initial premise of Bolt as a super-dog is really enjoyable, but the film actually benefits from moving from an out-and-out action film to a ‘going home” story. While the depiction of action in Penny and Bolt’s fake sci-fi world was convincing from a technical and expository standpoint, an hour-and-a-half of such goings-on would have been overbearing. The self-contained story comprised of false beginning and real middle and end also luckily does not lend itself to a sequel, because while this Disney effort hits the mark for fun, heart and humor, it just doesn’t have that “classic” vibe surrounding it. That makes it a simply good, rather than truly great, Disney film—which still counts for a heckuva lot these days, and should be enjoyed by children and their parents alike. The eventual DVD will be buyable, but it was just really, really fun to see families out at the showing the reviewer attended last night, having a good time with each other and the characters up on the big screen. A child’s laughter is infectious, and in order to make sure the child notices the comedy bits the overall tale must be engrossing enough for them to keep their attention and this film does that in spades. This goes for adults as well, and if only there were a word strong enough to surpass “infectious” when describing a child’s laughter mixed with their parent’s. Bolt may not be destined for classic animated film status, but also leaves little to be desired in its efforts to bring friend and family values to the screen in the form a stronger-than-he-thinks white German Shepard (note: doggie ancestry open for debate), an emotionally-empowered kitty cat, and a hyper semi-delusional hamster who’ll do anything for a friend.

The 411: Bolt is not a classic by any means, but still manages to surpass other similar efforts of late. (I’m looking at you, Shrek sequels.) Near flawless animation mixed with just-unique-enough characters and a slightly different premise make Disney’s latest a “should”-see, but is not impressive enough to generate classic (or “must”-see) status. Still, only people with icicles hanging on their hearts don’t like cute doggies, even if they can do without the cat or hamster sidekicks. Anyone looking for a good family film to attend over the upcoming holiday weekend would do well to check out Disney’s latest, which goes a long way towards re-legitimizing Disney’s animation studio in an effort to stand alone on the same playing field as (Disney-) Pixar.
Final Score: 7.5 [ Good ]


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