It’s fair to say that Disney’s animated output as of late has been something of a disappointment. Their last traditional animation, Home on the Range, is usually held in similar regard to Joseph Stalin, whilst Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons were both rivetingly uninteresting forays into the wonderful world of tedium. Thus, the discovery that Bolt is actually a thoroughly entertaining, old-fashioned romp of an animated feature is certainly a pleasant one, even if it does periodically come across as Pixar-lite.
Bolt stars John Travolta as an American White Shepherd named Bolt, who features as a cavalier canine companion alongside owner Penny (Miley Cyrus, sounding butcher than Travolta) in a hit Tinseltown TV show the domineering dog doesn’t realise is fiction, that is until an effeminate feline foe inadvertently sends Bolt in a package to New York, thus obliterating his entire concept of reality. Rather than have a nervous breakdown like a normal talking dog, our protagonist instead teams up with a streetwise cat called Mittens and a psychopathically obese hamster inexplicably dubbed Rhino and goes on a nice, all-American adventure.
The chief criticism one can level at Bolt is that it is a hulking Frankenstein-like rehash of previous Pixar films, bereft of the esteemed studio’s logo and hence feeling more than a little uninspired. Indeed, Bolt himself is arguably little more than Buzz Lightyear with a tail, complete with a similarly blustering nature and poor concept of reality, whilst Mittens is a mix of Toy Story 2’s Jessie and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, even packaged with a carbon copy of the former’s backstory. Though this is a good Disney feature, it lacks the innovation and nerve that we’ve come to expect from Pixar and thus underwhelms slightly.
That isn’t to say that Bolt doesn’t entertain. The cast all deliver perfectly solid performances, and the film’s core theme, surmised in a brilliant montage about halfway through the film, of Bolt learning to live naturally as a dog does mist up the eyes slightly, even if it is (like the film’s ending) more saccharine than a lovelorn Bertie Basset. Nonetheless, Bolt – bolstered by a gleefully grotesque supporting cast of misfits – is a pleasant, if reheated, cinematic experience that Disney will hopefully improve upon in the years to come.