Walt Disney's Bolt (2008, PG), directed by Byron Howard and Chris Williams, is the story of a dog (you guessed it, named Bolt) who is the star of an epic sci-fi action television show about a dog with super powers. Problem is, Bolt does not realize that the show he stars in is only a show. When he inadvertently escapes from the studio and takes off on a cross country journey to save his owner, he slowly comes to realize who he truly is and what it really means to be a dog.
This is pretty much all you need to know about the plot of Bolt. It is eerily similar to the Truman Show, inasmuch as Bolt is kept confined in an imaginary world created by television executives who have a vested interest in continuing to convince the poor dog that the show is the real world. Unlike the Truman Show, however, the character Bolt assumes on television has super powers, everything from deadly rays that shoot out of his eyes to a titanium skull that can smash through walls to a sonic bark that can wipe out whole armies. Being a television show, all of these are attributable to special effects, but for Bolt they are real, and Bolt honestly believes he is a super dog. The whole character arc of Bolt revolves around what happens when, after escaping from the studio (and the special effects that account for his powers), Bolt slowly comes to realize the truth about himself and what it means to depend on others, and to love.
Bolt is voiced annoyingly enough by John Travolta, and his owner Penny equally annoyingly by Miley Cyrus, though thankfully since we are talking about animation, we are able to lose ourselves in the characters and forget for a moment that this is Travolta we are listening to. Bolt is a convincing enough character, and some of the secondary characters are very well done - the hamster Rhino in particular is tremendously amusing, as are the pigeons that reoccur throughout the movie. The soundtrack is also outstanding.
Ultimately, the real story is not about a dog who imagines he has super powers, but about what it means to know oneself and the dangers inherent in self-deception. The self-deception that Bolt lives under, though at first it might seem good because it makes him feel proud and confident in his perceived abilities, in the end turns out to be nothing but an empty shell, and Bolt will soon realize that he doesn't know himself or what it means to be a dog. These things will have to be taught to him from scratch, and from the most unlikely sources - a declawed alley cat.
Overall the film was very satisfying and quite funny in certain aspects. Byron Howard, the director, would go on to direct the Disney hit Tangled only two years later, which shares many of the same qualities with Bolt but with a higher degree of excellence. Bolt had only two downsides I can think of: in the first place, though it was not very frequent, there is the occasional appearance of a faux villain, the "Green Eyed Man", who was so frightening in his appearance and demeanor that my two younger children (7 and 5) would cover their eyes when he came on.
Related to this is the problem of the plot of Bolt as an actor, in which his on-screen life and real-life are depicted in turn. This "movie within a movie" aspect of the film was confusing for my younger kids, who until the very end of the film, did not really realize that Bolt was merely an actor and did not understand the intricacies of the plot. This is not really a weakness as much as a precaution - the plot might not be understandable to children under 8, but nevertheless they were still able to enjoy the film.
Clean, exciting, funny, pretty decent story. I give it 2.5. It only lacks 3 because, well, it just wasn't perfect. It was really good, but the disparate elements and characters could have been woven together a little better. If I had a 2.75, that's what I'd give it, but since I don't, 2.5 it is.
Review by Boniface