After a fault-hounded opening, Bolt becomes doggedly fun. Most of the piddling difficulties lurk in the premise, which is almost cynically stupid. The story is built around a girl and her superdog, stars of a weekly television show that chronicles her fictional secret agent tales and adventures. The girl’s father is also the one responsible for making her pooch a superhero, but he’s since been kidnapped by a fiendish organization. But that’s not the dumb part. In the real world, pup star Bolt (John Travolta) has been deceived into believing he actually has super powers by a method-obsessed director (voiced by In the Actor’s Studio nerd James Lipton), who in turn believes that he can capture better canine acting if the mutt believes he is magic. But one day Bolt wanders away, and the waggish plot then revolves around his sullen flight from doggy delusion to self-knowledge. Most little kids are more media-savvy than the scriptwriters of this kibbled setup.
But suddenly, the story rolls over and speaks. The movie’s strengths are the well-chewed values of old Hollywood-fantastic chase scenes, a graphically beautiful montage or two, and the age old trick of bringing two clearly antagonistic characters together and letting the love in. (In this case it’s Bolt with a streetwise cat named Mittens.) And then the paucity-of-wit premise gets unexpectedly redeemed. Lo and behold, Bolt learns to come to terms with his limitations on his cross-country road trip. Then, because this is Hollywood, he and his faithful human get a new leash on life.
This is the second film Disney released under its new arrangement with Pixar’s John Lasseter, and like the underappreciated Meet the Robinsons, it not only stands up proudly to the famed Mouse canon, it bodes well for the future. It took a lot of skill and effort to save an idea as blase as this, and an attention to detail that will certainly reward multiple viewings. With this success behind them, it’s clear that Disney crossbred with Pixar is all about barking up the right tree.