If action "auteur" Michael Bay
trained dogs instead of constructing Transformers
, his canines would probably behave like Bolt.
Disney's computer-animated mutt (voiced by John Travolta
) defends his beloved owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus
), from the evil forces of Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) by head-butting semi-trucks, dangling from speeding locomotives, catapulting over military helicopters, and shooting laser beams from his eyes.
Or, at least, he thinks he does. Bolt isn't aware that his powers are a sham, an elaborate Hollywood trick meant to coax a more realistic "performance" from the faithful dog for the good of his prime-time television show. Yes, Bolt is The Truman Show with four paws, a tail, and a flea collar. Article continues below
But the show's ratings are failing, and the network moans that the all-important 18-to-34 demographic is tired of the same old formula. Producers stage a cliffhanger where Calico actually captures Penny, only Bolt thinks it's legit. He busts from his cage to rescue his owner but somehow ends up in a crate bound for New York City -- some 3,000 miles from Penny's actual location. With reluctant kitty Mittens (Susie Essman
) and uber-fan Rhino the hamster (Mark Walton
) in tow, Bolt makes the long journey home.
Trailers should advertise a movie's strengths. Yet the clips ripped for the two-minute Bolt tease sell it as something it's not -- and that's a good thing. The preview has our courageous canine crashing into closed windows, plummeting down gaping potholes, and dangling Mittens over a busy interstate. Move over Wily E. Coyote. Bolt's about to strike.
And while those bits turn up in the finished film, they're far less jarring when absorbed as part of the film's overall story about friendship, loyalty, and embracing one's identity. Bolt's disastrous attempts at using his powers off the set get laughs at first, but they give way to important lessons about accepting your limitations while still believing you are special. And the film's action is top notch. The opening sequence -- part of Bolt's fictional television program -- has more imaginative stunts than you'll find in the whole of Marc Forster
's choppy James Bond effort, Quantum of Solace
As brave as Bolt is, the film's real hero might be John Lasseter. The former head honcho at Pixar Animation Studios recently assumed creative duties at Disney's animation house, with Bolt being the first picture manufactured on his watch. As a result, it boasts much of the humor, character development, story layering, and unmistakable heart Pixar has brought to the animation genre. Reports actually have Lasseter scrapping unnecessary characters, changing key subplots, and dismissing original Bolt director Chris Sanders
(Lilo & Stitch). But the changes work. In much the same way that Bolt rescues Penny, Lasseter may have saved Disney's animation arm from a potential disaster.