'Bolt': A Show-Biz Hero With More Bark Than Bite

Bolt (John Travolta), Mittens (Susie Essman) and Rhino (Mark Walton) i i

hide captionIncredible journey: Bolt (John Travolta) goes on a cross-country quest with help from an abandoned cat (Susie Essman) and a hyperactive hamster (Mark Walton).

Disney Enterprises
Bolt (John Travolta), Mittens (Susie Essman) and Rhino (Mark Walton)

Incredible journey: Bolt (John Travolta) goes on a cross-country quest with help from an abandoned cat (Susie Essman) and a hyperactive hamster (Mark Walton).

Disney Enterprises

Bolt

  • Director: Byron Howard,                  Chris Williams
  • Genre: Animation, Comedy
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

Rated PG: Cartoon animals and child in peril.

Bolt and Penny (Miley Cyrus) i i

hide captionBolt and his TV co-star owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) have to fight against Hollywood no-gooders.

Disney Enterprises
Bolt and Penny (Miley Cyrus)

Bolt and his TV co-star owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) have to fight against Hollywood no-gooders.

Disney Enterprises

It's one of the most venerable tales in the Disney storybook: loyal animal undertakes incredible journey to be reunited with his human.

But the makers of Bolt have updated the scenario with two modern touches that aren't especially charming: digital animation and movie-biz in-jokes.

Introduced in the film's most visually detailed scene, Bolt is a fluffy, innocent puppy adopted by Penny (voiced by Miley "Hannah Montana" Cyrus).

Then the style turns darker and sleeker as a super-powered Bolt helps Penny battle an archvillain.

The latter is all make-believe, of course: Penny is a child actress, and Bolt a trained animal, complete with a black bolt painted on his shaggy white flank.

Trouble is, he doesn't understand that. Bolt has been forced to become a method actor. He really believes that he has such extra-canine powers as a super-bark and that his exploits with Penny are real. Left alone in his trailer to be razzed by his cat co-stars, Bolt is revealed to have no special gifts, aside from the voice of John Travolta.

When a mishap strands the dog in New York City, he has to fight his way back to Penny. But first he must find some cohorts to join in funny-animal banter as they hitchhike cross-country.

As in the 1963 live-action Incredible Journey, a trio makes the trek. Bolt is first joined by Mittens (Susie Essman), a tough alley cat who lives on tribute from Central Park pigeons. Later they meet Rhino (Mark Walton), a pudgy, TV-addicted hamster who takes Bolt's adventures as seriously as the dog himself does.

Mittens is the voice of reason, patiently explaining to Bolt why he can't duplicate the feats he performs on TV. But this is a Disney flick, so Mittens will eventually reveal her inner, well, fuzziness. And Bolt will ultimately prove that he truly is a hero.

If Bolt is not the most distinctive of cartoon mutts, he does capture the endearing canine qualities of devotion and determination. Children who aren't too alarmed by the dangers to Bolt and Penny should be entertained by this caper, despite some slack moments in the Midwest.

For adults, Bolt may prove a rougher trip. The animation is unexceptional and reprises those bulbous, overfed Americans just seen in Wall-E. As for Penny's self-serving agent and the pigeons who pitch script ideas to Bolt, they just aren't as funny as the filmmakers must have thought.

Yet the inside-Hollywood humor just keeps coming. From Aladdin's shtick-spouting genie to Madagascar's mime-performing lion, the latest generation of animated flicks is a sort of latter-day vaudeville revue. Kiddies who take Bolt to heart may conclude not only that dogs really do have superpowers, but also that everybody's in showbiz.

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