Wednesday, November 26, 2008

From the Archive: "Bolt" Film Review

Film Rating: A-

Welcome to The Archive, a comprehensive collection of reviews dating back to 2007, originally written for The Denver Post’s YourHub.Com website and print edition!  In the archive, you’ll find hundreds of movie, DVD, Blu-Ray, and TV reviews, along with other special features.  You can access the complete Archive Collection by clicking here, and read about the archive project by clicking here. 

Continue reading after the jump to access my original review of “Bolt.”

From the Jonathan R. Lack Review Archives:
Originally published November 26th, 2008

Pocahontas, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hercules, Mulan, Tarzan, Fantasia 2000, Emperor’s New Groove, Atlantis, Lilo and Stitch, Treasure Planet, Brother Bear, Home on the Range, Chicken Little, Meet the Robinsons…yeah, it’s been a pretty bad 14 years for Disney Animation.  That list is every theatrical animated film they’ve done since reaching their pinnacle with Lion King, and of the films on the list, the only movies I can stand are Fantasia 2000, Hunchback, and New Groove.  To say that Disney has slowly and methodically destroyed the department they are most revered for would be an understatement, because even DreamWorks boasts a better list of animated films than that. 

In 2005, Disney and Pixar merged, and Pixar guru John Lasseter became the head of all creative projects at the studio.  Disney’s new film Bolt is proof that John Lasseter is the new Walt Disney, a man with a similar vision, creativity, and genius.  Lasseter didn’t direct Bolt, but he took it upon himself to retool the picture and his fingerprints are all over it; with that kind of vision overseeing the movie, it’s no surprise that the film is the best animated flick the studio has produced since Lion King. 

The premise is a mish-mash of The Truman Show and your average road-trip movie.  Bolt the dog is the star of a popular television series where he protects his master with his ‘super-powers.’  Problem is, Bolt doesn’t know that the show is a show, and thinks he really does have powers (it’s like the Daniel Day Lewis style of method acting taken to the Nth degree).  One day, he accidentally gets taken from the set across the country, after filming an episode where Penny, his owner, gets kidnapped.  Thinking he needs to save her, he kidnaps a cat named Mittens who he thinks works for the villainous ‘Green-Eyed Man,’ and forces her to take him to Penny.  They are joined later by a hamster named Rhino, who is Bolt’s biggest fan.

The premise is odd and sometimes implausible, but it shines with creativity, and the journey the characters go in is simply delightful to follow.  The opening scene is a long action sequence involving Bolt and Penny going after the green-eyed man, and it goes on for a good ten minutes before we find out it’s all a TV show.  This terrifically animated scene is absolutely spectacular, bursting with creativity at every turn.  From here, we find out it’s all a show, and other equally creative elements come into play as the story unfolds.  Bolt features great action scenes, heartfelt emotional scenes, and downright hilarious scenes, a mixture that only the best animated films can pull off. 

The characters are the best part of the movie, and Bolt is full of the kinds of great characters that one usually has to go to Pixar to find.  Bolt himself is a strong protagonist, hilariously devoted to his TV fantasy world.  The character represents a perfect blending of acting and animation; John Travolta’s voice is the perfect fit, to the point where I didn’t notice it was actually him.  Sometimes, a celebrity voice sounds generic and doesn’t fit the character (*cough*every character in Madagascar*cough*), but Travolta’s voice really fits.  The animation on the character is even more descriptive; he’s a very cute dog, and looks very cool in the action sequences. 

Mittens the cat is an even more interesting character, voiced with an appropriate level of spunk by Susie Essman of Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Mittens is sort of like Jesse the Cowgirl in Toy Story 2—she a misanthropic view towards humans, which she eventually learns to get over.  She’s a great character, but the show stealer of this film is Rhino the Hamster, who is possibly the cutest, funniest creation in animation all year.  His obsession with and devotion to Bolt is side-splittingly hilarious, and the best gags in the film come from him.  If the rest of this movie just flat out sucked, I’d still have to recommend it just because of Rhino.  Rhino represents everything right about this film; he’s a classic Disney character, a character the likes of which Disney hasn’t produced in 14 years—again, this is the kind of thing you usually have to go to Pixar for.

Then there are the pigeons, who are also a riot.  We first see the pigeons bringing food to Mittens, who is almost like a crime boss in the alley where we first meet her.  Pigeons appear throughout the film, all of them with thick New York accents.  They all think they recognize Bolt, but can’t figure out where he comes from.  Hilarious.  Penny’s agent, voiced by Greg Germann, produces solid laughter throughout.  Penny herself is the only bland part of the film, though in defense of the writers and voice actress Miley Cyrus (better known as that annoying singer named Hannah…something), I don’t think this character could have ever been very interesting; she’s simply a girl who loves her dog, and you can’t do a whole lot with that.

The film’s animation is absolutely stunning, which is again something I haven’t been able to say about a Disney film in years.  Bolt and the other animals are animated realistically, but retaining a cartoony aspect.  It’s a good blend of two animation styles.  The backgrounds and environments are incredibly deep and detailed, but they too retain a style that is reminiscent of something hand-drawn.  It’s a unique style.  My only complaint with the animation is the humans.  They look fine, but they look very generic, like a mix between the humans in The Incredibles and Ratatouille.  Each Pixar movie featuring humans animates them with a distinct style, which makes the humans look interesting.  The lack of originality in the human animation in Bolt makes the humans look bland in comparison to the rest of the animation.  It’s a small complaint though.

Speaking of animation, I highly recommend seeing this film in 3-D; not only is it on an ultra-hi-definition DLP projector, but the 3-D aspect is, in a word, stunning.  There’s an incredible depth to the image, like you could walk into the movie and move around.  It’s not gimmicky at all, and never distracts from the film.  I’m going to have to start seeing CGI movies in 3-D, because it really is amazing.

Overall, while Bolt doesn’t reach the heights of the Pixar movies or even this year’s Kung Fu Panda, it is a great animated film and a huge step in the right direction for the misguided Disney studio.  John Lasseter has really turned Disney around, and has led the team to create a heartfelt, funny, and exciting adventure.  Compared to the most recent animated flick, Madagascar 2, Bolt is a masterpiece, and I think kids would agree; I saw both of these films in a packed audience full of kids, and while kids laughed at Madagascar, none of them were really into it.  At Bolt, the kids laughed, but they also gasped, and many would verbally react to what was going on; when Bolt witnesses Penny hugging another dog, one kid actually said “No! She got another Bolt!”   Those kinds of reactions are common when watching classic Disney films, and the ultimate proof that Bolt is a return to the glory days.  

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