I called Bolt one of the 10 best movies of 2008. After watching it on Blu ray (and DVD and digitally) thanks to the new home entertainment release, I continue to think it was better than most of what came out last year.
Since the release of the Tarzan in 1999, Disney animation has been hit and miss for almost 10 years. Frankly, it’s been a lot more miss than hit (think Brother Bear or Home on the Range.) Bolt doesn’t make up for all the crap that Disney has foisted on us recently, but it is a big step in the right direction. Despite being a computer animated film, like those of Disney’s own Pixar unit, Bolt shows that, as always, a good story works in any medium.
As is the case with almost every animated film ever made, the story is kinda ridiculous. Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is the star of his own popular television show along with Penny (Miley Cyrus). On the show, he’s a genetically enhanced “super dog” who stops bad guys, led by the nefarious Dr. Calico (Malcom McDowell), and protects Penny with super speed, super strength, heat vision and a wicked super bark. In reality, he’s just a normal dog, which everyone knows…..except Bolt. He’s led to believe that the whole show is real and that while he’s in the insulated world of the television sound stage (where he lives 24 hours a day) everything is fine.
Of course, he gets out and is accidentally shipped from California to New York. In a great gag (the movie is filled with them), Bolt uses one of those cartoon maps of the United States from a restaurant placemat and plans to head back home to “rescue” Penny. He still thinks this is a plot by Dr. Calico and that Penny is in danger. Along the way he forces a cynical cat, Mittens (Susie Essman), to help him and meets up with his #1 fan, a hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton). The three work their way across the country having typical road trip adventures. Well, typical for a delusional dog, an overly hyper hamster, and a disgusted cat.
While Travolta, Cyrus, and Essman are all solid, Walton’s Rhino is the breakout star here. Literally the funniest Disney character in history. His insane glee at living the adventure he’s only seen on television helps smooth over the somewhat typical relationship between Bolt and Mittens, while Mittens goes through the whole “I don’t need friends, but you’re my friend” thing. Every time Rhino is onscreen, he brings the funny and brings it hard. There are other hilarious parts including local pigeons at nearly every stop on Bolt’s journey, Bolt’s blaming Styrofoam peanuts for losing his powers, and a silly, pompous director (played by silly, pompous James Lipton), but it is Rhino who puts the movie on his ball and rolls it across the United States.
Animation movies of this type often like to have a moral that is over emphasized for even the densest (or youngest) viewer. Bolt avoids that for the most part. The relationships between Bolt and Penny and Bolt and Mittens form the heart of the film, but it is given an appropriate weight and the viewer isn’t hammered with it over and over again. Plus, the movie is just a load of fun. There are a few action pieces that are impressive and really look great in HD. This isn’t a deep thinking or unusual movie, trying to make a point; it’s entertainment. Entertainment that is not just a kid’s film, but something to be enjoyed by everyone in the family. A true film rather than a babysitter movie designed to appeal to those who think hilarity is when some says “poopy.”
Don’t be fooled into thinking that Bolt has any kinship with Chicken Little or other recent Disney animated offerings. While it could be just a quick uptick to be followed by more disappointing efforts, it’s an indication that someone at the studio knows a good movie when they see it and realizes that good animation can co-exist with humor, action, and a fun story.
I’m actually a little disappointed with the Bolt Blu-ray release. While it has a lot going for it and is definitely worth picking up, it is really a missed opportunity. There is a big dark line separating the good from the not so good.
On the good side are the movie, obviously, and the format itself. Bolt looks and sounds great on Blu-ray and it fully takes advantage of the HD experience. The details are fantastic and as crisp as it gets. The sound is excellent. It just looks great.
In addition to the Blu-ray disc, the package comes with a standard DVD that can be used in portable DVD players or the player in your kid’s room. It also allows people who are planning on upgrading to HD soon to buy the disc without having to double dip later. Finally, you get a portable copy to watch on your media player or computer. I love this three in one situation, giving everyone an option without having to purchase multiple formats.
The not so good is, sadly, almost everything else. The rest of the extras are pretty weak and also very brief. There is no commentary and the whole package seems to be designed more for the kids than their parents, older siblings, or just dime store adult Disney fans. There is no commentary, pop up facts, or anything else to give technically interested fans insight into the process.
Recognizing who was the real star of Bolt, the first extra is an animated short called “Super Rhino.” In it, Rhino basically stars in a hamster version of the opening action sequence in Bolt. It ends with a stale gag about Miley Cyrus’ television show persona, Hannah Montana. At four and a half minutes, it just doesn’t get the job done. It’s sorta “eh.”
There is a game called “Bolt’s Be-Awesome Mission.” Using the controller, you move Bolt around three levels in a game that sort of reminds me of old Mario Brothers stuff. I suck at games like this and couldn’t move forward, but it didn’t look like anything a veteran kid gamer would have trouble with.
The one place where the disc attempts to appeal to someone besides kids is the extra “Creating the World of Bolt.” The backgrounds in the movie were more lush and “painterly,” as the animators call it, than what is typically seen in CGI animation. For about six minutes, the animators and directors talk about putting together that look and what influenced it. There is also an extensive art gallery showing early concept art as well as storyboards.
The other two featurettes are more typical kid-oriented behind-the-scenes items. The four minute “A New Breed of Directors: A Filmmakers’ Journey,” doesn’t really capture any journey. It mixes brief interview segments with first time directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard along with video of them walking around the studios coordinating everyone else’s work. The discussion seems to be more interested in the animation teams decision not to shave near the end of production and grow some odd beards and a big hamster ball that people got inside and rolled down the hall, than the actual making of the movie. Also, Executive Producer John Lasseter is featured in the video more than either director. The final featurette is a nine minute piece on the voice actors called “Act, Speak! The voices of Bolt. This falls very much in the “seen one, seem them all category.”
The directors introduce two “deleted scenes” which are just crude sketches with music and dialogue of scenes that were cut out. Interestingly, they both relate to different ways Bolt found out he didn’t really have super powers. It does show that it was a real sticking point for the filmmakers and they tried a bunch of different ways to get it out there. But the scenes themselves (which last about three minutes each) aren’t very interesting.
Last and least is the music video for a duet between Miley Cyrus and John Travolta called “I Thought I Lost You.” The song is an innocuous country tinged pop song that I forgot even existed two seconds after I heard it. There is also something called “In Session with John Travolta and Miley Cyrus.” Billed as a “behind-the-scenes” look at the song, it’s a 60 second infomercial for the song that shows video from the music video and a few very brief comments from Cyrus on how great it was working with Travolta and a comment from Travolta on how Cyrus is like Olivia Newton John. It took you longer to read this paragraph than the whole segment lasts.
There might be a Special Edition or something of Bolt on the way for the animation fan. I hope so, as this effort was a little disappointing. However, the quality of the movie, the way it looks and sounds great in HD, and the fact that you get three formats in one make this a definite must have for any animation fan.