Bolt (2008)

Bolt had a rough, uneven production — and it shows. It was the first Disney animated film to have significant production overlap between Disney’s pre- and post-Pixar merger leadership. As a result, Bolt tries on a lot of identities. Too many, in fact, to ultimately come together as a satisfying film. But a lot of portions are really quite good, so it’s far from a waste of time.

The film’s story is driven from the premise: What if a dog thought he was actually a superhero, but really wasn’t? It’s a phenomenally (delightfully) stupid idea for a plot and ends up being a mishmash of a bunch of ideas done better elsewhere:
  • Toy Story 1: protagonist believes he’s a fantastical hero, but is in fact quite mundane, and must reckon with that truth
  • Toy Story 2: side character has trouble coping with being left behind by a kid in the past
  • The Truman Show: protagonist’s life is built around a TV show without him realizing it
  • The Incredibles: ordinary person/creature has superpowers, resulting in a comic blending of the mundane and the extraordinary

It’s, ultimately, a story that requires too much suspension of disbelief relative to the payoff, dragging down the movie. Its best moments (and most Pixar-esque moments) come after Bolt has realized he’s not a true super-dog. The story shifts to Bolt’s quest to reconnect with his owner. It’s not hard to see that as a vintage early-Pixar story, if not quite at the same tier in execution.

The animation is overall very good, with a few notable hiccups. The lighting and settings are amazing, as is the character design and animation of the animals. The humans, on the other hand, are a nightmare, uncanny and just weird looking. It’s hard to believe this was only 2 years before Tangled, a vast improvement in human CGI.

The voice acting is fine, if unremarkable. John Travolta and Miley Cyrus are adequate. They are frankly good enough that they don’t come across as stunt casting choices, which is a pretty big surprise. Susie Essman, who voices the cat Mittens, is the real standout; her feisty feline is a superb rendition. She’s funny, and she also captures the layers of the character.

The absolute highlight of Bolt is pound set piece at the pound. It is genuinely a comic tour de force.

Bolt is a movie about which Disney fans don’t have a lot of consensus, some adoring it; others lukewarm. I’m mixed, leaning cold, but still grateful for the innovations it brought, paving the way for the much better Tangled.

Is It Good?

Nearly Good (4/8)

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