Director    Byron Howard, Chris Williams
Starring    John Travolta, Miley Cyrus, Susie Essman, Malcolm McDowell, Greg Germann
Release    21 NOV (US) 6 FEB (UK)    Certificate PG
4 stars


2nd February 2009

In recent years, there have been two types of animated movie released by Disney. You have the Pixar movies, loved by all and heralded as works of genius; think WALL-E, Finding Nemo and Toy Story. Then, on the other hand, you have the rest of the crap. Think that's unfair? I give you The Wild and Chicken Little. Bolt, coming from the non-Pixar camp, could be the movie that finally changes that view.

Bolt (Travolta) is a super-dog. He has super-strength, can travel at lightning speed and possesses a super-bark. All of these powers are displayed in a frantic opening - designed to keep the ADHD-addled masses glued to the screen - as Bolt and teenager Penny (Cyrus) attempt to rescue her father from the evil Dr Calico (McDowell). With Bolt crushing cars, grounding helicopters and disposing of countless goons, there's enough carnage to make Michael Bay blush.

Thankfully, this pace doesn't last, as we find that this is all just a TV show, with Bolt tricked into believing all of the events are real in order to get the best out of him - kinda like a doggy Truman Show. In the 'real world', TV execs are worried that the show is becoming predictable. A change in direction has disastrous results, with a panicked Bolt escaping and being shipped from the Hollywood studio all the way to New York.

With Bolt finding himself in the real world for the first time, we get to the source of most of the movies laughs - in the real world, Bolt's super powers don't work. Bolt's delusion leads to laugh-out-loud moments throughout the movie, tackling a number of super-hero movie clichés, perhaps funniest of all when he discovered his very own form of Kryptonite in Styrofoam packaging.

The movie really finds its feet when Bolt is introduced to sassy alley-cat Mittens (the acerbic Susie Essman from Curb Your Enthusiasm). The two of them bounce off of each other with hilarious results, Bolt fully in his role of super-dog, convinced Mittens is an agent of 'the green-eyed man', and Mittens, grounded in reality, and forced to trek with him across country to find his beloved Penny. Also thrown into the mix is a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino. As Bolt's over-the-top (and overweight) biggest fan, he adds a new dimension to the movie as the three of them continue to journey across America.

The movie loses its way somewhat as it draws towards its conclusion, with too much focus on Bolt learning to be a real dog rather than a super-dog. Their journey is perhaps a little too easy - other than some mild peril on a fast-moving train and a run in with animal control - but this is compensated for with an action-packed ending. Screenwriters Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams really do push the material for maximum laughs, but it wouldn't be Disney if there wasn't a dose of sentimentality; it's never so over the top that it falls into the schmaltz category.

Perhaps it's the influence of Pixar founding member John Lasseter, who picks up an executive producer credit here in his role as chief creative officer at both Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios, but this the first time in many years that Disney animations have been able to compete with the very best. It's good to have them back. Ben

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