‘Bolt’ movie review: heartfelt Disney dog story with John Travolta, Miley Cyrus

A fun, engaging animated feature with a little heart, Byron Howard and Chris Williams’ Bolt is Disney’s best non-Pixar animated film in quite some time, following a string of mediocre features that date back to, perhaps, Aladdin

The computer-generated animation here looks fantastic; I think we’ve finally reached a point where CGI can deliver the same kind of artistic vision as traditional hand-drawn artwork.

Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is a canine TV star who is oblivious to the fact that there’s a reality outside the world of his weekly TV show. 

He plays a superhero of sorts, who has super-speed, heat vision, and the deadly ‘superbark;’ once a week, he teams up with Penny (Miley Cyrus) to save her father from the clutches of the evil green-eyed man, Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell); the plot of this TV show is shockingly similar to Inspector Gadget, right down to the girl’s name. 

In any event, Bolt is accidentally shipped off to New York City and has to contend with the real world while coming to grips with the fact that he doesn’t really have superpowers; joining him on his quest to return to Penny are cat Mittens (Susie Essman) and hamster-in-a-plastic-ball Rhino (Mark Walton), who provides the (usually effective) comic relief.

Bolt doesn’t reach the highs of Pixar’s Wall-E (or most Pixar films, for that matter) but it’s on a par with (maybe a shade below) DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda, providing plenty of fun for both adults and kids, wearing its heart on its sleeve but never forcing its message upon us. The three films have been nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar, which Wall-E will almost surely take.

Voice cast blends well with the animated characters, though there’s no real standouts save for a great cameo by Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton as the director of Bolt’s TV series. Travolta is ideally cast as the titular character.

One thing that bothered me: the director flips out upon seeing a boom mike in one of the shots, not because there’s a boom mike in his shot, but because Bolt may have seen the mike and had his illusion shattered. But wouldn’t he see it anyway, whether it’s in the shot or not?

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Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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