Directed by Byron Howard, Chris Williams. Starring John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton. (2008, PG, 96 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Nov. 21, 2008
Bolt, the first offering from Walt Disney Animation Studios to be entirely overseen by Pixar's John Lasseter (who receives an executive producer credit), opens with the kind of action sequence usually reserved for Michael Bay at his most incendiary. Bolt, a steadfast and loyal American White Shepherd boasting cybernetically enhanced superpowers – heat vision, an earth-shattering superbark, etc. – dodges missiles, motorcycle maniacs, and enough firepower to render lesser canines (say, for instance, Lassie) into so much fluff guts, flees the clutches of the maleficent, green-eyed Dr. Calico (voiced by McDowell) and his two feline fur balls of doom. His mission? Protect, at all costs, his beloved "person," the teenage Penny (Cyrus), and aid in her quest to discover the whereabouts of her sci-guy dad, who has been kidnapped by Calico's minions. It's a truly pulse-quickening and thoroughly audience-pleasing sequence that shows off Disney's new direction in animation (read: more Pixar-esque); it may even be the most exciting action-oriented opening thus far this year. And then … "Cut!" The film slips out of movie mode and we discover that it's all prop choppers, wirework, and just another day on the set of the hit television program Bolt. The catch – obvious but no less entertaining for it – is that Bolt, voiced with surprisingly few annoying affectations by Travolta, has been born and raised on the film studio lot and truly believes himself to possess those "radical canine enhancements" that his character displays every week on TV. Bolt is completely oblivious of his status as a flesh-and-blood nipper, so when he ends up accidentally shipped from his closed Hollywood environs to "the real world," aka New York City, the stage is set not only for a classic Disney road trip but also for a series of alternately comic and wistful revelations regarding the true nature of heroism, friendship, and love. Accompanying Our Hero on his peripatetic mad dash westward are a pair of Disney's better sidekicks: the cynical NYC alleycat Mittens (wonderfully voiced by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Essman, who brings just the right amount of cynical world-weariness to the character) and pudgy hamster Rhino (voiced by Disney animator Walton), an excitable, Bolt-obsessed fanboy who rolls through the proceedings in a clear plastic exercise ball. This is a Disney film, so there's never any real question regarding Bolt and his friends' ultimate success or failure, but the writing team of Dan Fogelman (Cars) and co-director Williams (Mulan) has concocted one of the most witty and often hilarious Disney outings in years. Add to that the beautifully nuanced vocal work from all involved, plus some of the most deliriously inspired animation to come out of Disney in years – that opening sequence really does have to be seen to be believed – and the end result is, to quote Rhino, awwwesome. Who's a good movie? Whooo's a good movie? You are Bolt, you are.