Bolt is the first animated Disney feature to be fully produced under John Lasseter’s watch, and the fact that it unspools like Pixar-light is at once a qualified compliment (hey, it’s better than prior Mouse House originals like Treasure Planet!) and further proof that Pixar’s greatest strength doesn’t derive simply from Lasseter’s (admittedly vital) imagination but, instead, from its collaborative environment of uniquely creative minds. Byron Howard and Chris Williams’s film is a doggie variation on The Truman Show in which TV action-star pooch Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) comes to learn that his thrilling superhero life battling the evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) alongside beloved owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) isn’t actually real, a revelation that arises after he inadvertently winds up separated from Penny and alone across the country in Manhattan. In this foreign metropolis, he enlists the help of unfunny ally cat Mittens (Susie Essman), who was abandoned by her owners and schools Bolt in the ways of reality, and amusingly manic hamster Rhino (Mark Walton), who travels in a clear plastic ball and is infatuated with the boob-tube canine, and they embark on a cross-country trek back to Hollywood that takes the shape of countless other anthropomorphic-animal sagas. Messages about the importance of loyalty, love and believing in one’s ability to be super are prototypical, and the contradiction of a mega-budgeted fiction arguing that mega-budgeted fictions actually hinder engagement with the world is sorta-kinda comical. Still, from its colorful, dexterous animation—given a high-gloss shine and depth by 3D effects that, mercifully, don’t resort to stuff-jumping-off-the-screen gimmicks—to its combination of humor and pathos, Bolt is perfectly amiable but rarely brisk, with neither its premise nor its execution quite inspired enough to elicit more than faint admiration. Rather than shooting for conceptual daring or emotional complexity, directors Howard and Williams merely aim to charm, a modest ambition aided by an above-average vocal cast (with Walton shining far brighter than his more illustrious above-title peers), yet one that, in light of Pixar’s narratively and aesthetically daring 2008 offering WALL-E, nonetheless proves less than electrifying.
- Byron Howard, Chris Williams
- Dan Fogelman, Chris Williams
- John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Greg Germann, Diedrich Bader, Nick Swardson
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