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Bolt (2009,USA)

26/06/2011

Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams     Starring: John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton

When Disney acquired Pixar in 2006 for the princely sum of $7.4 billion dollars you would be forgiven for thinking it was the other way round. Apple founder Steve Jobs, the majority shareholder of Pixar became the largest single shareholder in Disney and John Lasseter, the creative force behind Pixar’s success, became the Chief Creative Officer for both Pixar and the House Of Mouse. Although the companies were kept as seperate entities, Lasseter’s influence on the output of Disney is very apparent, probably nowhere more clearly than in Bolt.

At first glance you would be forgiven for assuming that Bolt is a Pixar project. A wonderfully rendered CGI tale about a dog, Bolt (Travolta), who is convinced he has superpowers as he is the star of a tv show that, in Truman Show style, he doesn’t realise is a show and takes as 100% real. When he inadvertantly finds himself in New York, off the set and out of his comfort zone, he has to try and work his way back to Hollywood to be reunited with his ‘person’ Penny (Cyrus) whom he believes to be in the clutches of the arch villain Dr. Calico (an entertaining cameo from Malcolm McDowell). Along the way he hooks up with a stray cat and an adventurous hamster and together they make the perilous coast to coast journey.

It’s a lot of fun and to be honest, wouldn’t feel out of place amongst the Pixar catalogue. The story is pretty solid, kiddy friendly fare. Bolt starts out exuding the confidence of a super-dog, convinced he possesses super-strength, laser vision, super-speed and his devestating super-bark. In the early sequences we see him in the context of his tv show, tackling small armies of evil minions with his formidable powers. These are far and away the best moments in the film, packed with slow motion stunts and high octane action. His Matrix style antics, leaping a helicopter in thudding slow motion, stopping a speeding car with his head (a particularly cool moment reminiscent of the jack knifing truck in The Dark Knight) and generally reducing the bad guys and the city to rubble are genuinely exciting and beautifully rendered. There is a definite anime influence at play in these sequences too.

These scenes give way to much more traditional Disney storytelling as Bolt is taken out of the artificial reality of the soundstage and forced to rely on his own abilities in the big bad outside world. Before too long the crushing realisation that he has no super powers takes its toll and the super-confident pooch is left crippled by self doubt until his new found companions can reinstill his faith in himself. It’s all heartwarming stuff if a little obvious but it’s carried off with more than enough humour for it to avoid becoming mindless schmaltz. The real comic relief comes in the form of Tom Walton’s Rhino the hamster, a telly-addicted rodent whose deepest desire is to run with Bolt, saving the world. Rhino gets all the best lines and many of the best scenes, trundling around in his perspex hamster ball and practically demonstrating the power of self belief, even when there is little to base said belief on.

Blessedly, apart from one incidental tune accompanying the trio on their journey west, somebody made the sensible decision not to go down the road of the all singing, all dancing, Disney musical adventure road. For this I am eternally grateful. Nothing ruins a good animation as surely as an ill advised song and dance routine, the most surefire way to break the flow of the story in my opinion. There are no such issues here, the story is well paced and the action plentiful. Cyrus and Travolta due burst into song for the end credits but there’s really no need to subject yourself to it, what with the stop button or mute key a mere fingertip away.

On balance it’s a brilliant effort from Disney, far superior to a lot of their recent output and on a par with the mid-range Pixar films. It’s a bundle of fun, made me properly laugh out loud and looks gorgeous to boot. To be honest, its worth watching just for the tv show sequences that really do raise the film above a simply average kids cartoon. Plus any film that references the A-Team is ok in my book.

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