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  • PG
  • Adventure, Animation
  • 2008
  • 96 mins




Disney's latest 3D animation is a comic odyssey, tracing three pets' journey through delusion towards some essential home truths


"That is totally unrealistic!" It is a reasonable enough assessment of the events in Bolt, and when the line comes from a talking hamster named Rhino with delusions of grandeur and an addiction to day-time television, you had better believe it. If Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton, in full Jack Black mode) thinks that he is larger than life, he looks it too, presented in eye-goggling 3D animation - and the medium, while certainly spectacular in its own right, also matches the message, in a film that repeatedly plays one type of reality off against another. Everything here comes in a form so vivid you can almost reach out and touch it (something that younger children in the audience will inevitably try to do) but realism proves to be relative.

Bolt (Travolta) is the star of an eponymous TV show in which he uses his altered canine abilities to rescue young owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) from green-eyed criminal mastermind Dr Calico (Malcolm McDowell) and an endless horde of tooled-up agents, except that the programme's director (James Lipton), guided by the principle that "if the dog believes it, the audience believes it", has used special effects and hidden cameras to maintain an on-set illusion of genuine threats to Penny. Accordingly the loyal dog has never for a moment imagined that his espionage adventures, not to mention his superpowers, are anything but real. So while the show might resemble 'Inspector Gadget', right down to the name of its imperilled heroine, and star a version of Underdog, it is run more like The Truman Show.

Falling victim to a prank from a pair of feline co-stars, Bolt breaks out of the Hollywood studio's controlled environment and is accidentally whisked off to New York City. Lost and confused but determined to find his beloved Penny and save her once again from the dastardly clutches of Calico, Bolt abducts a wise-gal alley cat named Mittens (Susie Essman), and is soon also joined on The Incredible Journey cross-country by his credulous number one fan, Rhino. Along the way, bonds will be formed, illusions stripped away, and home truths faced - before Bolt must at last rescue Penny from a danger that is far more real.

Children's films have always trafficked in fantasy but few have so overtly exposed their own fictionality for a young audience to see. Bolt first shows its hero engaged in super-canine feats (leaping mid-air over a helicopter, demolishing a massive army with a seismic bark), before revealing these all to be part of an (implausibly) elaborate TV show set up (impossibly) on a single soundstage. If the various pigeons that Bolt then meets on his (unlikely) interstate odyssey all try (and mostly fail) to recall who Bolt is, that merely reflects poor old Bolt's own bewilderment as he, like some four-legged Jason Bourne, struggles to work out who he really is and how to re-engage with his inner dog.

Meanwhile the film itself proves just as mercurial in its own identity, veering wildly from gravity-defying action to entertainment industry satire, from gangster picture to fish-out-of-water comedy, from buddy road movie to prison (or at least pound) break-out flick.

It is all held together by some exciting set-pieces, several very funny lines, a keen sense of irony, and an underlying message that the one true essential is to stick by the ones we love through any situation, real or imagined. It is a sophisticatedly wholesome moral for a post-modern age.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Miley Ray Cyrus, Greg Germann, John Travolta, JP Manoux, Susie Essman, Diedrich Bader, Mark Walton, Nick Swardson, James Lipton, Malcolm McDowell
  • Director: Byron Howard, Chris Williams
  • Screen Writer: Chris Williams, Dan Fogelman
  • Producer: Clark Spencer
  • Composer: John Powell

In a nutshell

Its hero may lack any real super bark but this comic cartoon comes with a sharply ironic bite.

by Anton Bitel

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