>> Bolt (7.5/10)

BoltWhen it comes to movies, the folks at Disney know how to craft one heck of a pop song.  Their movies keep the beat, they’re cheerful, and they have a memorable hook.  I know “pop” is almost a dirty word nowadays, due to a badly smudged line between actual creativity and the creation of corporate tie-in product, and I recognize that a lot of folks feel the same way about the word “Disney”, for exactly the same reasons.  Bolt is the first Disney in-house animated film to bear the fingerprints of Pixar’s John Lassiter, and it brushes some of the dirt off of the reputation of recent Disney animation, serving as a strong reminder of why Disney is THE trusted brand-name for family entertainment.

Bolt is a superior piece of comedic adventure about a dog named Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) that stars in his own superhero-action television show.  The twist is that the producers of the show are committed to keeping Bolt protected from the knowledge that the show isn’t real, in order to get a more realistic performance from the dog.  When an accident finds Bolt shipped to New York City from his cushy L.A. trailer, he’s not only “powerless” for the first time in his life (Bolt assumes packing peanuts are his Kryptonite), but he’s seperated from his human as well, his caretaker and TV co-star Penny (Miley Cyrus).  Taking a cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) hostage as his guide, he embarks on a cross-country trip home.  The trip leads to Bolt befriending an overachieving TV-junkie hamster named Rhino (animator Mark Walton), as well as Bolt’s rude awakening that he’s a regular dog and not a superhero at all.

The film blatantly copies the Buzz character arc of Toy Story and the Woody arc from Toy Story 2, and combines them into one film, just shiny enough to seem like something altogether new.  Bolt’s stubborn refusal to believe that he is anything but a normal dog, attempting acts of superheroics that make himself look foolish, are the same character bits we saw Buzz Lightyear go through over ten years ago.  A scene in Las Vegas exploring Mittens’ disdain for human owners, how they just end up leaving you behind, felt like a word-for-word replay of the scene in Toy Story 2 in which Jesse pleads with Woody to just forget about the humans because they only end up hurting you.  I half-expected Sarah McLachlan’s “When Somebody Loves You” to play in the background.  Honestly, though, if you’re going to steal, steal from the best, and I’m actually surprised no one has ever stolen this blatantly from the  Toy Story films before.  These borrowed pieces work pretty well for Bolt, and the film is still fairly original in its execution, if not its ideas.

Bolt is a great new Disney character, and Travolta brings such a natural, enthusiastic  life to the pup, that it may be his best performance in years.  The thing that Disney’s Bolt accomplishes that the Pixar movies accomplish (the thing that Dreamworks animated movies do NOT accomplish) is hitting the bullseye in regards to family entertainment–where the humor and action that work for junior will also work just as well for mom and dad.  There aren’t separate gags  for the kids and separate gags for the grown-ups (ala Dreamworks).  The entertainment in Bolt is for everybody.  It’s a sophisticated, funny, and enjoyable time at the movies, no matter how old you are.  And, frankly, that’s what a Disney film should be like every single time.

7.5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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