Pixar animation wizard John Lasseter is the guiding force behind this Walt Disney canine comedy adventure that comes across as an adorable cross-breed out of The Truman Show and The Incredible Journey.
The Bolt of the title (voiced by John Travolta) is the star of a hit TV show about a super-dog who each week performs feats of doggy derring-do to rescue his young owner, Penny (voiced by teen pop sensation Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana), from dastardly spies and thugs. Like Jim Carrey’s Truman, however, Bolt has been cynically kept in the dark by the show’s producers and does not realise that he is on TV: he actually believes his exploits are real and that he has his character’s amazing powers – super-strength, super-speed and a super-bark that can stop armies of villains in their tracks.
Bolt’s rude awakening comes after he gets accidentally shipped from his home on the TV studio’s Hollywood soundstage all the way to New York. Believing that Penny is in desperate danger, he embarks on an epic cross-country trek to find her, picking up two unlikely traveling companions along the way – a snarky alley cat named Mittens (Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Susie Essman) and a TV-obsessed hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton), who finds distinguishing between fantasy and reality almost as difficult as Bolt and trundles along inside his plastic exercise ball in his hero’s wake.
A joy from start to finish, Bolt is full of the qualities we’ve come to expect from Pixar (though this is, strictly speaking, a Disney film). The animation is lavish, the characters appealing and the jokes clever – with some enjoyable satire at the expense of Hollywood, whose excesses are embodied in the ghastly agent voiced by Ally McBeal’s Greg Germann.
The film is being released in 3-D and 2-D versions. I saw it in 3-D and can happily report that the filmmakers deploy the extra dimension with unusual restraint. Here, for a change, the 3-D adds a tactile richness to the animated world without the film’s creators feeling they must poke your eye out by thrusting pointy objects out of the screen, as has usually been the case with 3-D movies from Dial M for Murder to Beowulf. Just as the movie’s dogged hero comes to accept himself as he is, without super-powers, Bolt the movie is good enough on its own terms to dispense with gimmicks. (General release from 6th February)