Disney Animated Features
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Release Date: 21 November 2007
Fans of Chris Sanders, the creative force behind the "quirky" film Lilo & Stitch, were intrigued and excited when word came of his next project for Disney, to be titled American Dog. They were equally devastated and disappointed when Sanders was removed from the project by new Chief Creative Officer John Lasseter and the film was "homogenized" (by their reckoning) and retitled Bolt.
Supposedly, Sanders' concept was just too quirky, and he refused to make the changes Lasseter felt were necessary to finish a quality film. Yet it was precisely that unique Sanders touch which his fans sought, so their disappointment was understandable. Sanders has since left Disney and moved on to Dreamworks; whether this move is ultimately best for both Sanders and Disney remains to be seen.
Despite the controversy, the very basic core of Sanders' story remains, and the historical details of the film's production should in no way diminish the quality of the result on the screen. Bolt is a good, satisfying film not out of place at all in the Disney canon.
Bolt is the canine star of an action-adventure television series. He portrays a dog with superpowers, intent on protecting his human charge, a girl named Penny, from all manner of evil intent, mostly perpetrated by the malevolent Green-Eyed Man.
There's just one problem—Bolt, the actor, thinks it's all real.
The entire production has been carefully—and, no doubt, expensively—staged to hide any evidence of fiction from the dog's perceptions. The director insists on the authenticity created by inducing real emotions in Bolt, rather than filming the results of training. These methods may work on the screen, but it causes problems when a cliffhanger ending to the day's filming leaves Bolt anxious to save Penny, and he escapes.
Improbably, Bolt finds himself 3,000 miles from Hollywood, still believing Penny is in danger, and with no clue that he's nothing more than an actor. He sets off across the country with a selfish alley cat and a worshipful hamster to find Penny and defeat the Green-Eyed Man once and for all.
The plot is admittedly predictable—no adult moviegoer is going to doubt that Bolt will eventually realize that he never had superpowers, while ending up ultimately happier for the knowledge that his beloved Penny is no longer in constant danger. For kids, though, who perhaps have not seen this type of plot numerous times before, the movie addresses these elements well.
As in several recent Disney films, the lead voice actors are celebrities, but their voices are relatively unobtrusive and the characterizations are not designed around the celebrities. This is a change from the way things worked in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, when, say, the part of Baloo in The Jungle Book was written specifically with Phil Harris in mind, or Robin Williams completely changed the way Aladdin's Genie was animated.
John Travolta voices Bolt, and teen sensation Miley Cyrus voices Penny. There's not much more to say about that, except that both actors do fine jobs with their material. The two also duet to sing the soundtrack's lead song, "I Thought I Lost You", co-written by Cyrus.
The film, like Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons, was released in Disney Digital 3D in select theaters, but, as in the earlier films, the 3D effect is largely unnecessary. The film was also released with a 3D short, featuring Mater from Disney-Pixar's Cars in "Tokyo Mater", one of "Mater's Tall Tales".
With humor, action, adventure, and heart, Bolt is a very good film, despite its tumultuous history. Its simplistic story and predictable plot, though, means it's not likely to ever be counted among the company's finest.
Information for the Disney Animated Features series of nodes comes from the IMDb (www.imdb.com), Frank's Disney Page (http://www.fpx.de/fp/Disney/), and the dark recesses of my own memory.