You just knew John Lasseter taking over Disney’s animation studios would be a good thing. In the Eisner years, the “gimme” product, where some Disney property was used in some shoddy direct-to-video format because they knew it would sell X units, was reminiscent of those ‘70s live action films the studio went to after deciding animation was too expensive. Even the A-list material had begun to decline after the death of Howard Ashman (The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and the good half of Aladdin).
Although I thought I detected some of his influence on the earlier film Meet The Robinsons, this seemed unlikely to be very direct, since he had just taken over the studio. But it is very obvious in Bolt. The lead character is a dog in a TV show who, for dubious reasons (earnestly explained by the TV show’s director, voiced by “Inside the Actor’s Studio” host James Lipton) requires Bolt to be convinced that he’s a superdog really rescuing his person (Penny, played by Miley Cyrus).
Bolt, then is much like Buzz Lightyear, Lasster’s Toy Story hero, or becomes much like him when a mishap has him mailed across the country and forced to find a way home to rescue Penny (who isn’t really in trouble). His companions on the journey are Mittens, the cynical New York cat, and Rhino, the couch potato hamster. The former doesn’t get Bolt’s delusion until the latter–a Bolt true believer–explains that he knows Bolt from “the magic box”.
John Travolta, Susie Essman and Mark Walton are the dog, the cat and the hamster respectively, with longtime Disney animator Walton being far and away the funniest voice. Essman (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) takes enough of the nasal twang out her voice to be palatable as the tough-but-vulnerable cat. Travolta is, if not distinguished, exceedingly pleasant as a dog learning how to be just a dog.
There’s no edge to this movie which, as you may know, I approve of. I don’t really want kid’s films to be “edgy”. There is the usual message of what you believe being an empowering factor but it’s ultimately an appreciation of his mundane abilities that allows Bolt to save the day.
The animation is quite good, as you’d expect. There’s a very nice transformation with Bolt, who both captures a lot of expressions and mannerisms of Travolta, as he becomes more “doggy”. And the common problem of the CGI character seeming lack mass is avoided.
The Flower liked it, of course, but The Boy also approved. Also, my mom loved it. So, there’s a broad range of appeal, even if this isn’t a great movie.
We didn’t do the 3D. My brain doesn’t do 3D.