Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 11/21/08 05:31:12

"Not quite Pixar, but definitely the next best thing."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

"Bolt," the latest film from Disney Animation ("Meet the Robinsons," "Chicken Little"), is a computer-animated family film shot in Disney Digital 3-Dô that delivers (near) Pixar-level quality. Not surprisingly, "Bolt" is the first animated Disney film conceived and supervised by John Lasseter, Chief Creative Officer for Pixar and Disney. The story, characters, animation, and message are all unmistakably influenced by Pixar and the decade and a half run of near-superlative to superlative animated films (e.g. "Wall-E," "The Incredibles," "Finding Nemo," "Monsterís Inc.," "A Bugís Life," "Toy Story I and II") that have made Pixar synonymous with excellence on both narrative and visual levels (not to mention merchandizing worth billions of dollars). While "Bolt" isnít Pixar-level original, story wise, itís still a significant step up for Disney Animation from its previous efforts (and bodes well for the future under Lasseterís continuing leadership).

Bolt opens with an action set piece that could have been easily mistaken for a scene from Pixarís Oscar-winning superhero film, The Incredibles. Bolt (voiced by John Travolta), a five-year old white German Shepherd with superhero powers (e.g., speed, strength, an earth-shattering bark), saves his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus), and her father, Dr. Forrester (Ronn Moss), from the nefarious clutches of Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell), the ďMan with the Green EyeĒ and power-mad villain and his henchmen. What Bolt doesnít know, though, is that heís the star of a weekly television program. The showís director (James Lipton), s stickler for naturalistic acting, even from his canine star, has decreed that Bolt must be protected from the knowledge thatís heís not a superhero.

Through a series of mistakes and mishaps, Bolt finds himself inside a cardboard box stuffed with Styrofoam peanuts and shipped cross-country to New York City. Still believing heís a superhero (but somehow weakened by the Styrofoam peanuts) and that Pennyís in mortal danger from Dr. Calico, Bolt tries to make his way back to Hollywood as quickly as possible. After coercing a wily alley cat, Mittens (Susie Essman), to help him find Penny, Bolt heads west, hitching rides where he can and riding trains when he canít. Along the way, Bolt and Mittens befriend a Rhino (Mark Walton), a hyperactive hamster-in-a-plastic-ball who also happens to be Boltís biggest fan. The journey west, of course, includes its share of life lessons, primarily for Bolt, but also for Mittens, who has a complex or two of her own to work out. Meanwhile, the producers of Boltís television show want to replace him with an identical dog.

Itís easy to see where Boltís writers found their inspiration:Toy Story, The Truman Show, and Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey. From Toy Story, co-screenwriters Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams (who also co-directed), borrowed the heroís ignorance of his true nature. In Toy Story, Buzz Lightyear didnít think he was a toy, but eventually came to grips with the realization that he was. From The Truman Show, Fogelman and Williams borrowed the idea of a character being filmed for a live-action television show without his knowledge. From Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey, Fogelman and Williams borrowed the central characterís motivation (i.e., returning to his owner and home) and the misadventures along the way that fuel the central characterís growth toward maturity.

What "Bolt" lacks in originality story wise, it makes up in smooth pacing, a solid mix of visual and verbal gags that will keep both parents, small children, and everyone in between entertained, dramatic and emotional beats that avoid cheap sentimentality, appealing performances by a mix of name stars (e.g., John Travolta and Miley Cyrus) and character actors, and computer animation influenced by Edward Hopperís paintings and Vilmos Zsigmondís cinematography ("The Deer Hunter," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "The Long Goodbye," "McCabe and Mrs. Miller"). Of course, everything looks better (at least 37% better) in 3D and "Bolt," Disneyís first film conceived and produced in Disney Digital 3-Dô (previous efforts were converted from 2D to 3D).

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