Step to the side Krypto, you’re not the only superdog in town. At least that’s what we’re initially led to believe in Disney’s new animated offering Bolt. After all, the dog has powers that enable him to outrun helicopters and motorcycles, lay waste to any objects in his way and incapacitate people with a mere touch of his paw. I don’t know about you, but I’d hate to think of what he might be capable of when lifting his leg up against a tree . . .
But in true Truman Show capacity, we soon realize Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) hasn’t got any special abilities. Everything he does is carefully choreographed by the producers of his hit television show without his knowledge. The set of the show is all Bolt knows and he’d be in for a rude awakening if he ever found himself out in the real world.
Cue drumroll, because that is of course, what happens. When his co-star Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) is “kidnapped” for a season ending cliffhanger, Bolt breaks out of the soundstage determined to save her from the clutches of the evil Dr. Calico A.K.A. “The Green-Eyed Man” (voiced by Malcolm McDowell). Little does he realize, he’s the one in need of saving.
You can imagine the curveballs little Bolt gets thrown while in this uncharted territory. Writers Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams try to keep his adventure from becoming the standard “fish out of water” fare with mixed results. It is certainly fun to watch Bolt put himself in situations he thinks are easily overcome with abilities he doesn’t realize aren’t real. In one instance he jumps in front of a semi-truck thinking he can stop it with his indestructible skull. In another he narrowly escapes with his life when he launches himself onto a moving train. There are plenty more of them too, so much so that I found myself asking the powers-that-be to spare the dog from any more life threatening moments.
But it isn’t all about watching a dog make a fool of himself or cringing while he does it. Disney is known for characters undergoing self-realization and metamorphosing into something greater and Bolt is no different. Bolt comes to his moment with the help of Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman), a street smart cat he catnaps to help him find Penny. It is rather bittersweet as Mittens convinces the dog she initially hates that while he may be an ordinary dog, he’s still special. She even goes so far as to teach him how to play with other dogs in the park, and, most importantly, how to stick his head out of a moving car’s window and relish in the wind in his face.
During the viewing of any animated movie, the question of how the voice talent holds up and how the characters look is always mentally asked at least once. The work done by Travolta and Cyrus, is so-so — I figure anyone could have been put into those roles and done as good of a job as they did. Susie Essman, on the other hand, does a great job capturing what it is to be cat. She plays it sly and cool, while giving us momentary glimpses into her deep-rooted anger over being abandoned by her owners. The marvel of Bolt has to be Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton), a zany hamster who feverishly believes Bolt is a dog with amazing abilities. His enthusiasm is impossible to contain and I found myself excited for him! By way of visuals, there isn’t anything groundbreaking, although the nod to the strip in Las Vegas was as precise as I’ve ever seen it.
When compared to other animated features of the year (Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa comes to mind), Bolt stands head and shoulders above. And even though it may not the best Disney has put its collective muscle behind, if you’re not careful they may still manage to get a big smile or pull a tear or two out of you.