I’m starting to see the attraction of keeping pets …

Golden Mug


Best Animated Film

Theatrical Release Date: 11/21/2008
Directors: Byron Howard & Chris Williams
Featuring the voices of: John Travolta, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Miley Cyrus, Greg Germann, Malcolm McDowell, James Lipton, Randy “Macho Man” Savage

2008 has been a year of quality animated fare from the big studios. While the December push of award contenders finally tipped the scale in favor of live-action films, when trying to recommend films for people who just want a little light and fun, I instantly rattle off “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hearts a Who!“, “Kung Fu Panda” and “WALL·E“.

Disney finally pushes themselves into the fray this year with “Bolt” – the story of a TV dog who thinks the superhero hijinks he gets into on the show are real. Of course, when a cliffhanger ending puts his owner, Penny, in “danger”, he sets off to rescue her – forced to face the reality of who he really is along the way while meeting up with some of the oddest animated characters this year.

To voice Penny, Hannah Montana herself (Miley Cyrus) was a great choice and probably not a bad idea from a marketing perspective either. Comic veteran Susie Essman plays the captured cat that Bolt uses to get information on Penny’s whereabouts and Mark Walton brings Rhino the hamster to life – a character so radically energetic and just plain awesome that he gives Katie from “Horton Hears a Who!” a run for her money.

Now, I saved the titular pooch for last because the voice filmmakers decided to go with to bring a young, delusional dog to life was John Travolta. This isn’t a choice I immediately warmed to but I will admit that it worked really well. He managed to inject as much youthful energy into his character as possible and struck a nice balance between being an impulsive puppy and a dog who is seeing the real world for the first time.

Adding to the good voice work all around (supporting characters included), the sound department should pat themselves on the back for the excellent use of real animal noises to mix in with the voice work. Whether it’s Bolt’s whimpers or Rhino’s little hamster squeaks, it all added a nice touch of realism to the project.

Speaking of realism, many of the backgrounds weren’t your typical animated fare but ultra-lifelike panoramas. While there’s a montage scene in the middle that utilized a more stylistic approach, the opening scene as the camera pushes into the pet store where Penny chooses Bolt was one of a handful of scenes that had me fooled for a second because of the excellent use of composition.

As for the film’s story and script, I found it to be fresh and very funny. The action scene at the beginning that represents the Bolt TV show had better set-ups and choices of camera shots than over half of the live-action films I’ve seen this year. Additionally, Bolt’s delusional belief about his super powers and apparent Kryptonite-like weakness to pink Styrofoam peanuts was a nice touch.

Everything Rhino the hamster did was a lesson in near-genius and it amped me up to see this little furball putting 350% into every effort and speech he made (though I’ve always been a sucker for animals encased in plastic spheres). There’s also a great comparison between east and west coast pigeons that will bring a smile to anyone familiar with the key differences in stereotypes about the two coasts.

“Bolt” clearly stands among the best of the animated fare this year, as well as one of the easiest films to recommend to people who like cartoons and are just looking for something fun. It’s clear that having one of the key founders of Pixar, John Lasseter, heading up the Disney animation studios is paying off and I hope to be able to place the same amount of trust in future Disney animated projects as I do with the Pixar productions he once spearheaded.

This isn’t something that you necessarily need to see on the big screen (though I wish I had seen it in 3D), but when you want something light-hearted to pass the time to in the near future, feel confident that “Bolt” will do the trick and I’ll give it a 4 out of 5. If this year’s crop of animated features are a sign of what’s to come, the people behind the ho-hum, live-action, rom-coms and shoot-em-ups had better tighten their belts another notch and realize that they’ve got more to compete with than whatever other remake or sequel is positioned against them that month.