Hello everyone and welcome back me! NaNoWriMo is over (Nailed it! Boo-yah!) and the world continues to spin. It’s December, and I am planning on doing a few Christmas-ish movie reviews, but I’m going to work hard to get these Disney reviews done and through the chute.
So let’s dive right in with Bolt. This was the first movie since 2003’s Brother Bear that I have an inkling to want to see in the theaters (but of course, I didn’t). Disney still wasn’t back up in the good graces of the masses. The so called “Disney Revival” wouldn’t happen until the next movie, but personally, I start the revival here, with Bolt. I’ll do my best to explain why, but first, let’s see what Bolt is all about:
In a nutshell, Bolt is the story of a dog who, unbeknownst to himself, is an action hero of his own TV show. He’s been brought up to believe the dangers that occur to himself and his human Penny in the show are real.
After ratings slip because the show is too predictable, the writers decide to end the show on a cliffhanger (aka bolt NOT rescuing Penny and her getting kidnapped by the villain of the show). To make it seem real, he can’t even see that she’s ok after filming, and because of such, Bolt (who thinks it’s all real) flips out, escapes the set, and attempts to go after the Green eyed man (the villain) but ends up knocking himself out and mailing himself to NYC instead.
Having no idea where he is but knowing he has to get home and find the green eyed man and save Penny, he enlists the help (more like kidnaps) of a cat named Mittens to take him to the green eyed man. Mittens of course thinks he’s crazy, but sees his collar with California on it and they begin their road trip from NYC to LA. On the way they meet a hamster who is a huge Bolt fan (but somehow thinks Bolt is really a super dog). They go through some things, Bolt becomes disillusioned, doesn’t know who he really is, but still yearns to make it to LA and find Penny (who unbeknownst to him is being forced to continue filming the show with a new Bolt.)
They get there, and yeah…. I won’t ruin the end (I’ll talk a bit about it later though…)
I’m going to be completely honest with everyone: I love this movie. I love the characters, the relationships, and even the storyline. My hardest issue to get over with this movie (and this becomes true for a few Disney movies as we move on – it’s the flip side to the coin of having Lassiter in charge) is that is doesn’t feel like a Disney movie.
Again, I’m going to remind readers that I grew up in the Disney Renaissance – to me, Disney is all about fairy tales, good characters, and good songs. I’ll have to wait one more movie to get me one of those…
Bolt is strange, because while I can see that it’s a Disney movie, to me it’s not really classic Disney. If anything, it actually reminds me of a live action Disney studios movie of the 90s. It includes and relies heavily on television and studio production. There’s lawyers and agents and executives. There’s freaking product placement – that’s right. We have a U-Haul and an iPhone. In a Disney movie!!! Am I the only one who thinks that’s weird?
Sure, Meet the Robinsons or Lilo and Stitch didn’t have songs and were a bit un-Disney and different, but they were fantastical. Bolt is grounded in reality. Maybe that’s why I just find it weird to call it a Disney Animated movie. Or at least I did at the time. Now, after movies like Wreck-it Ralph and Big Hero 6, I’m starting to understand that this is just how the studio is going to work now. It’s not bad – it’s just different. And I guess my traditionalist mind is having issues adapting to it.
That being said, it’s only my real big qualm with the movie. I’m not like all the critics who said that this was an overused story, or that the ideas had been done before. Have they? sure. Here’s a list of movies that Bolt could have taken from: Toy Story, Homeward Bound, Truman Show, Inspector Gadget (seriously, anyone see the insane similarities between that tv show and the one in the movie…?).
Now out of those movies, how many kids who were the target age of Bolt (Let’s say aged 5-10 in 2008) would have seen any of those movies? I have, but I’m much older. You get to a critics age, and they can probably pull out a few more movies that Bolt is like. Here’s the thing though: I hate this argument. I hate it! Just because a story has been done before doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. If the author or writer or studio can make something about it different enough, or make the characters memorable enough, then the argument, in my opinion, is crap.
That’s what they did here.
Sure, this movie has a lot in common with all those movies I listed above, but what makes this movie wonderful are the characters, their relationships, the humor, and the freaking cleverness of all the lines uttered.
First there’s Bolt, voiced by John Travolta. He’s been raised since a puppy to think that he is a super dog, with a super bark, super speed, lasers coming out of his eyes, and the strength to bend metal bars. Then he’s thrown into the real world and doesn’t understand why his powers don’t work. He blames it on the Styrofoam that was in the box he was mailed in, which I think is clever. But there’s only one thing on his mind: he has to get back to Penny and save her. Even after he realizes and accepts that he’s not who he thought he was, he still wants and needs to get to her.
We’ve seen other characters like this (like Buzz Lightyear) but what I love about Bolt and his transformation from crazy super dog to normal dog is that is seems more… real. In Toy Story, Buzz sees a commercial and has an existential crisis and comes to terms relatively quickly of what he is. he’s more extreme. Bolt, on the other hand, questions why his powers don’t work, comes up with a hypothesis for why they don’t work, and then only through time and experience comes to the harsh truth that he’s not really a super dog. But does that mean he’s not special or that he can’t be a hero? no. And he comes to terms with that part slowly, which I think is nice. The entire movie really is about him discovering who he really is, and what or who is really important.
His traveling buddies, of course, help him on his journey. First we have Mittens, the cat he kidnaps from NYC who just wants to be left alone. She’s pessimistic and sarcastic and grounded in reality almost to a fault. She tries to talk some sense into Bolt and thinks he’s crazy at first until she realizes that he has a legit reason to think he’s super. She knows TV shows and understands the concept, and attempts anything to prove to him it’s not real. Once Bolt is disillusioned, She helps him see what life can be like as a regular dog. But again, she’s extremely pessimistic, and tells Bolt that “Penny” is just an actress and doesn’t really love him (which of course Bolt ignores). She has reason to be so pessimistic, which maybe you can guess, but I’m not going to give it away.
Then there’s Rhino the hamster, who is on the other end of the spectrum as Mittens. He’s a huge fan of Bolt but isn’t smart enough to realize that what he’s watching on TV isn’t real. He joins their party to rescue Penny from the Green-eyed man, and for the majority of the movie is in a hamster ball. Rhino is optimistic and believes with every fiber of his being that Bolt is the hero he knows him to be, and desperately wants to be like him. Even after Bolt tries to tell him he’s not a hero, Rhino refuses to listen. He spends the whole movie believing that Bolt really is as great as he thinks, and that every moment spent with him is the best moment of his life. He’s also hilarious and the main source for crazy humor in this movie, and it works as one of the movie’s greatest strengths.
I think a character like this is extremely important in this movie because without Rhino, Bolt might have started believing he couldn’t be a hero or couldn’t do anything. Rhino inadvertently refused to let Bolt sink into a depression, and Mittens helps solidify his connection and loyalty to Penny, which does end up getting tested once they get to Los Angeles.
It’s like I said: The relationships between these characters is what really makes this movie special. It’s why I could watch this movie over and over. The voice actors are spot on (yes, even Miley Cyrus as Penny – ugh I hate saying that…). We get emotional moments that really tug at your heartstrings, and we have some humor that is just so smart but not overdone in the least. This movie has things that make is extremely memorable to the point where you see a picture and you know it’s from Bolt – what else could it be from? (waffle world maps, for one). It’s extremely quotable.
I figured out a good word to describe this movie: It’s clever. It’s clever in its humor, lines, situations, ideas, characters, etc.
I’m not going to say much else about this movie. I could delve into the whole lesson about the hazards of all work and no play, the morality of what the tv studio did to poor Bolt, or the idea of loyalty (I want a freaking dog like Bolt!). But instead, I’m going to tell people to go watch this movie if they haven’t seen it. You’ll watch it, and you’ll understand all of that, because it’s well dog.
It may not feel like a Disney movie. It may feel more like a Pixar one, to be honest, but that’s not a bad thing. Pixar makes us laugh and cry, and looking back now 6 years later, this movie really was the first one to show us where Disney would go. It was the last Disney movie I wouldn’t see in theaters, and I wish I had. I wish more people had. This movie should be the start of the revival, but instead I feel like people forget about it. You really shouldn’t. It deserves to be seen, and I watch it for the characters alone.
Note: The ending is also the most scary/sad thing I’ve seen in a Disney movie in a LONG time. I remember the first time I watched this I really didn’t know what was going to happen, and I still tear up to this day every time I watch it. That’s Pixar right there!
Note #2: This also marks the first time we get animation in the credits, which I have to admit I have loved ever since Lassiter took over.
I give Bolt (2008) a 3.8 out of 5. Solid, and if you haven’t seen it, SEE IT!!
Up Next: The Princess and the Frog (2009)