In trying to decide how the movie “Bolt” corresponds to one of 26 dictionary definitions for the word “bolt,” I think that “spring away suddenly” is most appropriate, although the canine hero of this animated story does have the requisite lightning streak emblazoned in his fur coat.
Yet the association with speed is applicable to a film that starts quickly and loses momentum along the way but gains some traction at the end.
The namesake title pooch (voiced by John Travolta) is lovingly cared for by Penny (Miley Cyrus) and has spent his entire life of five years — which is the equivalent of 33 dog years — on the set of a television show in which he stars as an action hero with extraordinary doggy powers.
The most notable is his “super bark” that comes in quite handy when pursued by the evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell). Bolt has led a sheltered life. The sound stage is the only environment he’s ever known. So he believes himself to actually have the powers his fictional character possesses.
When Bolt is accidentally shipped from Hollywood to New York and he can’t perform the amazing feats that usually are automatic, he laments, “Normally I’m a tad more indestructible,” before the reality of his situation sets in. Now he’s forced to rely on regular street smarts when he meets a slick city kitty named Mittens (Susie Essman) who shows him the ropes and helps him find his way back home. Along the way, they pick up a hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton), who is a fan of the television character and also enamored with Bolt’s nonexistent superior powers.
The movie is really clever when it starts because it takes us into Bolt’s world by bringing us into his television show where we are experiencing the same situations as he is. It’s a great way to blur the line between fantasy and reality, which is the crux of Bolt’s problem.
I found that premise to be the movie’s strongest point, because once Bolt and friends start the road trip across America, their myriad adventures were only mildly engaging and far less involving. I wasn’t concerned when he was captured by the mean animal rescue officer or slipping off a train because I could see farther down the proverbial road to home. It was during this part where the filmmakers slipped in the “you don’t abandon a friend in a time of need” message.
Where Disney has usually managed to intentionally inject a fair amount of adult humor in its animated films to appease the parents who accompany their kids, that aspect was less apparent in this one. Although Penny’s unctuous talent agent (Greg Germann) is amusingly slimy in a stereotypically funny show business manner, it’s definitely more for the pre-teen set.
I won’t advise you to automatically roll over and rush to see it, but if the kids beg, you can give them a nice holiday treat.
PHILLIP HAIN is a Glendale resident whose family had to give back their pet dog because it was too big for his younger sister, but had a cat for many years.