With every new animated movie, there comes the inevitable comparison to the gold standard laid down by megastudio Pixar. Bolt comes from Pixar’s parent company Disney, and while the animation quality is up there, and the kid-friendly humour and endearing characters are there as well, Bolt still just misses that Pixar mark. Perhaps there is something too common or derivative about the story of a super-cute dog on a quest to save his owner (it sounds like every Lassie movie, and has echoes of Pixar’s Finding Nemo). The twist in the premise is that Bolt is a dog with super-power (neat twist), but that’s only Bolt’s movie persona. Y’see, wonder pup does not realize that his adventures are not real, but all set up for a weekly TV show. The premise smacks not only of The Truman Show, but also reminds me of Buzz Lightyear from Pixar’s Toy Story: a toy action figure who believed himself really to be an intergalactic policeman.
However, like any good animated movie (can we call these “cartoons”? I dunno.) the story is secondary to the characters. Fortunately for Bolt, there are a number of good characters in this movie, starting with Bolt himself. Voiced very well by John Travolta, this dog is not only incredibly cute (I can guarantee that the adoptions and purchases of whatever breed of dog Bolt is will skyrocket after this movie) and earnest, he’s a very relatable character as well. Perfect for the lead in a movie. Next to him are two wonderful sidekicks: Mittens the cat and a hamster named (get this) Rhino. Both are refreshing characters that sadly get lost in a forgettable movie. Mittens is a bit ironically named because she is a street-smart, sarcastic, cynical alley cat. She’s the one who proves to Bolt that his on screen persona is not real, and she’s the one who starts off at arm’s length but in the end becomes a close friend to our hero. Rhino is my favourite because he is a cute fuzzy ball of fan-boy. He rolls around in his plastic hamster ball and watches TV all day, so when he meets Bolt in real life and is given the opportunity to take a real-life adventure, he is almost overcome by giddy excitement. Rhino is the ultimate geek mascot: the adorable little totem that lives inside everyone who’s ever lined up for an autograph, put up a movie poster, or attended a sci-fi convention. (It would be great if the DVD featured a short film starring Rhino — you listenin’ Disney?)
Even with characters such as these, I think it’s the dialogue scenes that just don’t live up to something special. I mean, it’s nice when the three main characters start to bond, but in the end, most of the movie is serving the plot of getting Bolt to California to be reunited with his “person” Penny. That stuff is cliche and predictable. In a year that has a record number of candidates for the Animated Film Oscar, and already some good ones like Kung-Fu Panda and wall-e, Bolt is great fun for the kiddies, but just doesn’t stand out enough to be more than a 4 out of 5.