January 29, 2009 -- Disney Animation has been weakened by stale storylines in recent years, but “Bolt” represents a fresh new face in the Disney lineup. This project was supervised by John Lasseter, co-founder of Pixar studios, and the Pixar magic that powered the likes of “Finding Nemo” and “The Incredibles” shines through. The film also owes some of its charm to some well-worn Disney films of the past, such as “The Incredible Journey.” This is the best animated feature film of 2008 (although I haven't seen “Waltzing With Bashir” yet, but I have seen the overrated WALL·E).
Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is a dog who plays a super hero on a TV show, but he doesn't know it's an act. He doesn't even know how to be a normal dog, because he's been brainwashed by his handlers. Bolt lives a carefully controlled life in a trailer inside a studio in Hollywood. Despite his strange existence, he remains loyal to his original owner, Penny. A series of mistakes dumps Bolt into the real world, 3,000 miles from Penny in New York City. He needs to find his way home, but he doesn't have a clue how to do that. He gets help from an unlikely pair, a smart, world-weary alley cat, Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), and a gung-ho hamster named Rhino (voiced with extreme enthusiasm by studio cartoonist Mark Walton). With their help, he makes his way thousands of miles back to California. Mittens teaches him how to be a normal dog and Rhino shows him he doesn't need super powers to be a hero.
This is a classic hero's journey. It is also a journey of self-discovery. Bolt learns to put away childish things and become a responsible dog. The story is reminiscent of the similar journey of the characters Buzz Lightyear and Woody in the “Toy Story” movies. Like those films, “Bolt” is a story about the real world colliding with a fantasy world. “Bolt” is a wonderful family film loaded with action, humor and humanistic values. The best thing about it, however, is not the basic story, but the characters. Each of the three main characters are well defined, well developed and fascinating. Much of the humor and drama of the story is achieved through the interaction of these three wonderful characters. There are also a ton of movie inside jokes that adults in the audience will probably appreciate more than the kids will. The film is also visually imaginative, with lots of entertaining visual sequences. It was shown in digital 3D in many venues nationwide, including two 3D-equipped theaters in Cheyenne, WY. I saw this in 3D. Seeing it in 2D may not be as good an experience. It rates a B+.
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