DVD Release Date:  March 24, 2009
Theatrical Release Date:  November 21, 2008
Rating:  PG (for some mild action and peril)
Genre:  Family, Comedy, Animation
Run Time:  96 min.
Director:  Chris Williams
Voices by:  John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Mark Walton, Malcolm McDowell, Greg Germann, Dan Fogelman, Chloe Moretz, Ronn Moss

Much like this summer’s Tropic Thunder where a group of spoiled actors discover the war movie they’re making is, well, the real thing, Hollywood has a little more fun at its own expense in Bolt (minus the excessive violence, gratuitous language and the whole controversy factor, mind you).

For starters, there’s a group a hustling pigeons with a few ideas of what makes great television (aliens!), and the smarmy, smooth-talking agent who believes the best way to comfort a client in need is by booking her on The Tonight Show. And then, of course, there’s the fuzzy line between reality and fantasy with our canine protagonist. But thankfully, the story never gets so insider-y that the audience feels alienated in the process, and ultimately, there’s plenty of laughs for kids and their parents alike.

Before Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) starts believing he has superpowers, he’s just a darling little puppy living at your standard-issue pet shop. Impressed by his sad-eyes cuteness and impressive array of doggy tricks, Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) decides to adopt him. Before the script has an opportunity to get too cutesy, however, the story immediately fast-forwards five years. Picking up the pace considerably in a fantastically crafted action scene, Penny and Bolt are now being chased by evil henchman while trying to rescue her dad from the menacing Dr. Calico (voice by Malcolm McDowell).

As the stars of a popular TV show appropriately titled Bolt, the only one who doesn’t realize he’s surrounded by actors, boom mics and a menagerie of special effects is the pooch himself. And everything gets really confusing for Bolt after the network’s head honcho informs the staff that the key demographic is sick of happy endings. So to give the show that much-needed “edge,” they write an episode that involves Penny being kidnapped. Thinking “his person” is in danger, Bolt tries to rescue her, only to mistakenly get shipped across the country to the Big Apple.

With no cushy, heat-controlled trailer or gourmet meals delivered on demand, Bolt is majorly lacking in survival skills in his new surroundings. Before long, though, he meets a street-wise alley cat named Mittens (voice by Curb Your Enthusiasm actress Susie Essman), who teaches him the ways of the dog-dom, right down to begging—a skill the perpetually hungry Mittens finds particularly lucrative. But Bolt isn’t exactly interested in hanging out with Mittens permanently because he’s itching to get back home to Penny.

When push comes to shove and life gets increasingly difficult as he makes the cross-country jaunt, Bolt slowly begins to realize that his “super bark” and every other cool trick he used to know aren’t exactly real. But thanks to the constant insight of the smart-alecky Mittens, who becomes an unlikely friend and readily proves to cat lovers that felines may indeed be smarter than their canine counterparts, Bolt starts embracing life as a “normal” dog. With Mittens’ encouragement, he sticks his head out the window to feel the wind in his fur. And he learns to fetch—and absolutely loves it.

Rounding out the animal pack (and seriously adding to the funny factor) is a scene-stealing hamster named Rhino (voiced by Mark Walton), who always travels in his plastic bubble and just happens to be quite the Superfan of Bolt. Guiding Bolt through what he’d do if he were back on the show, the unlikely trio eventually makes its way to Los Angeles—albeit with many struggles on the journey.

So will Bolt make his way back to Penny and the small screen? And what will become of Mittens and Rhino? Of course, I’ll never tell. But I will say this: Bolt is probably the best-looking Disney movie in a good long while. Crafted in gorgeous 3-D splendor, it’s a feast for the eyes complete with lavish attention to detail. And these engagingly drawn leads are only further enhanced with stellar vocal talent. Not only is Travolta a perfect match as the multi-faceted showbiz dog, but Cyrus shows a surprising range of emotion as Bolt’s beloved owner. That, combined with a humor-infused storyline, an emphasis on friendship and plenty of action-packed adventure, definitely keeps you engaged for nearly an hour and a half and provides families with a great holiday entertainment option. Now that’s something extra to be thankful for, right?

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  None.
  • Language/Profanity:  None.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence:  The PG rating comes from a few scenes of peril. In addition to Bolt being taken away from his TV family, there are several instances where the TV show bad guys are trying to hurt or capture Penny, Penny’s father and Bolt. To escape their clutches, there are long, tense chase scenes, explosions and multiple vehicles forcibly tipped over. Later on, Bolt playfully dangles Mittens at the edge of a cliff until she complies with his wishes.

  
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.