Bolt (2008)

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I watched this movie once when it was first released on DVD. Of course, I was babysitting a 4-year old at the time who spent the whole film putting stickers all over my face, so I can’t say I remember much of it. I had thought that it was somewhat decent though, at least as far as I remembered. I was even happy to be out of Disney’s dreary slump, figuring this would be a step in the right direction.

Sigh. I hate when I’m wrong, especially when it means sitting through another Disney misstep.  The opening scene, though a bit surprising, grabbed my attention. It feels a lot like an action film, with a supe-rpowered dog battling bad guys and trying to save his owner.  About two minutes into the film we realized that Bolt was basically Krypto the Wonder-Dog, pondered why a studio didn’t just make that movie because it would be such an easy success, and then decided to just go with the “Bolt is really Krypto” thing because it made the film more enjoyable. I figured we were in for an odd but enjoyable ninety minutes.

…And then the first scene ended, and it’s revealed that the whole thing is all scripted for a television series.  For some unknown reason, the producers decided that they got a better reaction out of Bolt when the dog believed he actually has superpowers, and so never let him see the cameras/find out that it’s all fake.

Um…what the heck??  First of all, how do you hide an entire film crew from a friggin’ dog, and why would you even bother?  This is completely nonsensical and quite frankly turned me off from the movie early on. I’m totally fine suspending disbelief, but that’s generally for more fantastical situations. If we’re supposed to be watching this movie knowing full-well that there are no super-powered puppies running around, then the rest of the film should be equally rooted in reality.  Not so. Instead, an episode of the show ends with Bolt’s owner Penny being “kidnapped”, and Bolt, believing it’s real, runs away to try and rescue her.

What follows is painfully predictable. Bolt meets up with a couple side characters (a street-wise alley cat and a t.v.-addicted hamster) and slowly realizes that he doesn’t really have special powers after all.  The cat teaches him how to be a proper dog (fetching, drinking out of the toilet, etc etc) as they make their way across country to try to get back to Penny.

The climax of the film ends with Penny and Bold being trapped in a burning building, with a surprisingly ominous scene in which the two seem to resign themselves to dying in the fiery inferno.  It’s up to Bolt to use his “super bark” to save the day, alerting a rescue team to their whereabouts. The film abruptly ends with Penny and Bolt leaving the show in favor of a quieter, real life, complete with the newly adopted cat and hamster.

I wanted to like this movie, honestly.  After a slew of less-than-stellar films, I had high hopes that Disney would turn it around with this one. Unfortunately, it just feels like it misses the mark yet again.  Bolt at least attempts to instill a sense of heart into the film, a trademark of any true Disney classic, but it just doesn’t quite live up to the expected level of sentiment.  I think my primary issue with the movie is that it feels too self-conscious; had the film been a straight-up “superhero dog” movie, I probably would have liked it better. As it stands though, it’s as though Disney was too worried that something so basic would work, and so spend much of the film poking fun at Bolt for believing that his powers are real. A word to Disney writers: magic is sort of your bread and butter. People love your films because of the magical, fantastical element. We want to believe that anything is possible, no matter how far-fetched. The Disney crew on this film just didn’t seem to believe in their power to convince the audience that that magic was real, and so left us with a film that feels a bit flat and too condescending to be a true Disney classic.

Bolt is not the worst of the worst, but I had higher hopes going in. I’ve seen it, but I think once is enough for me. Knowing what films await me in upcoming weeks, I know Disney is capable of so much more, and that it’s not just my adult bias clouding my judgement.  Future films on the list of Disney releases will garner a great deal of praise from me, even though they were released in my adult years. Sadly, Bolt is not one of them. It’s missing the earnest sentiment and belief that anything’s possible that makes a Disney film truly great.

-Jess

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