BOLT Movie Reviews

     November 20, 2008

Since Brian and Matt both wrote reviews for the new Walt Disney animated movie “Bolt”, we decided to run them in one article. Brian’s review is first followed by Matt’s. Both liked the movie.

Bolt movie review by Brian Orndorf

Emerging from Disney’s wounded in-house animation arm, “Bolt” is as routinely arranged a tale as the Mouse House is capable of telling. However, the lack of screenwriting imagination is offset by the inherent charm of the picture, resulting in a pleasing arrangement of CG-animated action set-pieces and slapstick comedy to push “Bolt” beyond the repetitive family film norm.

Bolt (voiced by John Travolta in a winningly playful performance) is a Hollywood canine action star, only he doesn’t know it. As the lead in a hit television series, Bolt spends his day defending “his person” Penny (Miley Cyrus) from a stream of bad guys with his heat vision, karate-chops, and super bark. Accidentally separated from the show, Bolt finds himself shipped to New York City, making it his mission to return to California and soothe a worried Penny. Taking a street cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) as his prisoner, Bolt is forced to confront a world where his “powers” are on the blink. Befriending an enthusiastic admirer in Rhino the hamster (Mark Walton), the trio trek across the country, with Mittens teaching Bolt the realities of life as an average dog.

“Bolt’ is a nice change of pace from the Disney Animation Studios norm. Coming after the misguided antics of “Chicken Little” and “Meet the Robinsons,” “Bolt” settles into more comfort food tones, showcasing the antics of cute animals against a backdrop of pure Americana. Directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams, the picture contains a lovely momentum, shifting between threads of comedy, slick action (emphasized outrageously in Disney Digital 3-D), and heartache with minimal fuss throughout most of the running time, hitting expected notes of mass-consumption gaiety that will surely amuse younger audience members.

Trouble is, there’s no real bite to “Bolt” in either plot or emotion, leaving behind a frustratingly shallow movie that’s much too quick to lay the melodrama on thick in an attempt to reach out to the viewer. Bolt’s arc from superdog to confused canine is a point belabored into ground by the filmmakers, who whip the straightforward plot point over and over, reducing the movie’s pace to a crawl at certain critical junctures. The sympathetic goo is extended to Mittens and Penny as well, who get their own overscripted cross to bear, again, stopping the movie cold in the name of derivative manipulation.

“Bolt” is breezier as a road movie, watching the group cross the country on their way to Los Angeles, with Mittens giving Bolt pointers on primary pooch pleasures, such as begging for food and car riding smell opportunities. The performances lend the movie an interesting spin, as Travolta and Cyrus are the only real stars of the movie. The rest of the cast is made up of character actors (including Greg Germann, Diedrich Bader, and James Lipton) cast more for vocal quality than star power. It’s a nice change of pace, especially with the likes of Walton, who puts his heart into interpreting Rhino’s Bolt fan spasms and plastic-ball-encased heroism, gorging on slapstick to become the film’s comedic highlight and the lone character not burdened with an irritatingly gloomy backstory to overcome.

More admiration for “Bolt” is revealed with the film’s soundtrack, employing Jenny Lewis (a musical performer of staggering serenity and crushing grace) to provide a mid-movie montage with a bouncy, folksy song entitled “Barking at the Moon.” Further surprise arrives at the end credits, with John Travolta returning to his “Let Her In” musical roots to duet with Cyrus on the tune “I Thought I Lost You.”

Filled with explosive canine derring-do, gorgeous animation with a pleasing fixation on Midwest panoramas, and a hilarious psychotic hamster rolling around stealing laughs, it’s easy to appreciate “Bolt” as a nontoxic entry in the CG-animation sweepstakes. Perhaps the film isn’t endowed with a glop of Pixar preciousness, but “Bolt” gets by on a heady froth of charisma and a few surprises where it counts the most.

— B plus

BOLT Movie Review by Matt Goldberg

It’s so hard to find a family film that worth championing. You either have unwatchable pap like “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” or mediocre half-assed fare like “Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa”. Even my current favorite of the year, “Wall-E” isn’t a film I’d necessarily define as a “family” film although I think everyone in the family can enjoy it (my friend Alice, who came away from the film feeling completely and utterly depressed, has no family; she is a product of spores). But “Bolt” is a family film I can whole-heartedly recommend even if it manipulated the hell out of me by being utterly adorable.

“Bolt” won me over in the first minute by having Bolt as a puppy wrestling with a chew toy. If the film was just that for ninety minutes, I would still love it. But the filmmakers decided not to coast on that and actually provide a story: Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) has what I’d like to call “Buzz Lightyear-syndrome”: he thinks because he plays a super-powered pup on TV, he actually has super-powers. This isn’t Bolt’s fault: the director wants Bolt method acting so everyone, including his owner Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus), keeps him in the dark. But when an episode ends in a cliff-hanger instead of with Penny rescued, Bolt breaks out of his confinement only to end up on the opposite side of the country and working to make his way back home. Along the way, he crosses paths with the world-weary alley cat Mittens (voiced by Susie Essman who does great work even when she’s not cursing up a storm at Jeff Garlin on “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and a hyper-active hamster and Bolt’s biggest fan named Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton).

While there’s nothing original or groundbreaking about “Bolt”, there’s rarely anything cynical. There’s an over-zealous agent who’s too annoying to be comedic but other than that, it’s a fun ride. “Bolt” comes through with the same energy as though no other film has done this before and that earnestness and drive kept me wholly entertained throughout. Unfortunately, while that energy makes for a great movie-going experience, the lack of originality has the film fading fast from my memory.

But “Bolt” isn’t aiming to be the year’s most memorable film. It’s trying to be a family film that the whole family can enjoy rather than a movie that parents are dragged to by their kids and then forced to sit and regret their lives while a talking Chihuahua makes them regret the decision to reproduce. Everyone in the family can enjoy “Bolt” and if someone in your family doesn’t, then it’s time to send them away like we did with Nancy, my ex-little sister who didn’t enjoy “Toy Story”.

Rating —– B minus

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