MOVIE REVIEW-<i>Bolt</i> is no dog: Disney effort delivers
Once, when John Travolta's career was in the toilet, he starred in the third of the Look Who's Talking movies, in which Diane Keaton and Danny DeVito provided the voices for talking dogs, before he made a comeback in Pulp Fiction. Though riding high after last year's Hairspray and Wild Hogs, Travolta finds himself voicing a dog in Bolt, an animated comedy that's surprisingly good, when the trailers had prepared me for the worst.
Even if you believe in talking animals (humans in the movie can't understand them, but we can) you'll have to strain to accept the premise. Once you do, it's smooth sailing– another Incredible Journey like Beverly Hills Chihuahua, but traveling to Southern California from New York instead of Mexico.
Bolt (Travolta) is a TV dog. Rescued from a shelter five years ago, he's lived most of his life onscreen since then. (Think a canine version of The Truman Show.) His screen character has superpowers, and Bolt doesn't realize they're achieved through special effects. Everything (including helicopters exploding overhead) is done live without retakes to preserve the illusion for Bolt on the theory, "If the dog believes it, the audience believes it."
By the end of the day he's rescued his "person," Penny (Miley Cyrus), and she puts him back in their trailer until it's time to film another episode. When declining ratings force the network to shoot a cliffhanger, Bolt can't understand why he's being put away when Penny's still in danger. He escapes but is accidentally shipped to New York in a box filled with Styrofoam padding. When his powers don't work, he blames the Styrofoam, thinking it's his Kryptonite.
Pigeons hook Bolt up with an alley cat, Mittens (Susie Essman). He takes her prisoner, assuming she's an ally of Penny's TV nemesis and can lead him back to her. So begins their road trip. Along the way they pick up one of Bolt's biggest fans, Rhino the hamster (Mark Walton), who travels in his plastic globe.
The journey introduces Bolt to real life, its good and bad points, as a cat teaches him to be a dog. After first becoming aware of his limitations Bolt begins to discover the things he's capable of without special effects. Upon his return to Hollywood, of course, he has to rescue Penny for real to end things happily– at least until the inevitable Bolt 2.
A couple of action sequences are among the year's best. That sounds silly, but most of the others, dependent on CG effects, aren't much more real than these animated ones.
Like the best family films, Bolt has plenty of action and comedy for the kids but also enough jokes for grown-ups that will go over young heads. As a bonus, there's an intergenerational duet behind the closing credits between Travolta and Cyrus.
Disney didn't have a 3-D print ready in time for review, but since the movie works fine in 2-D, the extra dimension can only make it better.