“The real world hurts, doesn’t it? But you wouldn’t know anything about that, would you?” – Mittens
Bolt, Disney’s 2008 release, has a bit of an interesting history behind it. Started well before the Pixar-Disney merger, it was film that went under a ton of changes after John Lasseter became the head of Disney Animation. The director was fired, the script was rewritten, the designs and characters were changed, and all of the animation done for the film was scrapped and redone within 18 months, a short amount of time to animate a film. Suffice to say, it’s hard to even describe the amount of work that was put into making this film work.
Bolt is the story of a dog named Bolt, who has enhanced powers that allow him to help his owner, Penny, save her father from the evil Green Eyed Man and his cats. Or, at least that what he thinks. In truth, Bolt is part of a TV show, and has grown up his whole life believing the show is real. Though Penny wants to take him home, the director won’t allow Bolt to see the real world. In response to a storyline where Penny is kidnapped, Bolt escapes, and through a series of events, accidentally ends up in New York. He finds a stray cat named Mittens, and demands that she take him back to Penny. Mittens figures out that Bolt is from California, and is unfortunately taken along for the ride. Along the way, they meet Rhino the Hamster, a super fan of Bolt’s show, and Bolt discovers the truth about his life.
Let’s talk about the absolute best thing about this film: Rhino the Hamster. This guy is going to join Jose Carioca, Panchito, Mr. Toad, and Basil on the list of “Great Disney Characters that Get Forgotten or are Underused.” He absolutely hits comedy gold with every line he says, and is extremely memorable in voice, in design, and in character. Plus, he isn’t just some throwaway side character. He actually is very important in helping the arcs of both Bolt and Mittens progress, and he is epic in both accounts. A truly classic character that will unfortunately be forgotten.
I also enjoy Bolt’s TV Show fueled personality. John Travolta’s voice work is perfect for the character. I feel that it is extremely fun to discover Bolt’s problems with not being in the TV show and the way he explains these issues to himself. It’s built very effectively that his action hero life is the only life he had ever known. It’s a character personality that really lends itself to comedy, which is the intension of the film, it works very well. Even though the character ends up feeling similar to Buzz Lightyear, Bolt has enough of his own quirks to make him interesting.
Speaking of the TV show, I love it’s presentation, and while there is no conceivable way I can think of to expand its presence in the film, I wish there was more of it. The opening sequence is so full of over the top goodness that you can’t help but to crack a smile. Where it really works is in the behind the scenes aspect. The passion of the director, the careful precision of the crew, and they way they fool Bolt into believing in this world is reality. And the last we see of it at the end of the film, and how they explain a change in actor, is absolutely brilliant. Sometimes I wish there was a mini spinoff exploring this aspect of the film a little more.
I enjoy the banter between Bolt and Mittens, and in the structure of the film, the building of their relationship is entertaining and well done. I don’t know if I would call Mittens as a character by herself amazing, but she works very well when playing against Bolt and Rhino. I think we get just enough of her back story where we understand her and care for her. She’s most effective in playing what she sees as straight against Bolt and Rhino.
This is another film that suffers from having a much stronger first half than a second half, though it doesn’t suffer as much as other films with this problem such as Oliver and Company. To me, while the Bolt and Mittens arcs and stories are still watchable and interesting in a sense, Rhino is what carries the film’s second half, which is unfortunate. Again, it isn’t that the other aspects of the film are bad, but they just aren’t as good.
Bolt’s arc suffers in the second half, and a helpful comparison to help me illustrate this point is Buzz Lightyear’s arc in the first Toy Story. In Toy Story, Buzz’s discovery of his reality comes pretty late in the film, and is a grand moment of self failure and self discovery. It’s a really heartbreaking moment for both the character and the audience. Bolt lacks that moment. His failure is very quick, very small, and very iffy as an event that would wake him up. It also happens much too early. The change in Bolt happens halfway through the film. This is part of what weakens the film’s second half. Bolt’s arc is over by that point, and there isn’t much else for the character to really do or expand upon.
Bolt’s “woken up” personality just isn’t as strong as his false one, and I feel a reason for this is the focus of his change. The montage the film presents features Bolt learning how to be a dog, and while that’s fine, and while Bolt is characterized as uptight, I feel that the focus is a bit off. Much of the issues that Bolt faces in the first half of the film is about not knowing pain, not knowing hunger, not knowing how to function in the real world. I think the dog stuff is important, but it needed some of that real world lessons, which would especially help lead up to the schism between Mittens and Bolt that occurs later, if Mittens had shown Bolt some survival tips.
The second half of the film depends a lot on the relationship between Penny and Bolt, and Bolt’s drive to see her. In the end, it is good when it needed to be great. Part of the issue is that Bolt is too focused in the opening moments of the film. We see Penny’s care for Bolt, but never really the other way around. While I believe Bolt wants to be with Penny even after he knows the truth, it never feels like a strong enough desire. In fact, Bolt’s feelings on his relationship with Penny is very little explored. The beginning feels like more duty than love, and after the truth is out, Bolt’s feelings almost disappear.
Also, I’m just not a fan of Miley Cyrus’s acting. I defended her during the first two seasons of Hannah Montana, but she never grew out of that beginning actor phase for me. Her emotional scenes feel very forced, and it comes out in Bolt, which is bad considering that many of Penny’s scenes are emotional in nature. It’s annoying and distracting. The original choice for the part, Chole Mortez (AKA Hit Girl) would have been a much better choice.
BEST MOMENT AND SONG
Neither of the two songs in Bolt are particularly strong, but “Barking at the Moon,” which plays during the montage sequence, is better than Miley’s and Travolta’s duet in the credits.
The best moment of the film, I feel, is the first meeting with Rhino. I think it shows the strength of all three of our main characters, and is a great introduction to a great character.
I really love Bolt. I think the work done to improve the film was ultimately a success, and it has strong characters that help to make the film entertaining. However, in comparison to what is coming up, Bolt just isn’t as strong and has a weaker second half of the film. Bolt is a film you should check out, but on this list, it fits into the 36 spot.