I'm almost embarrassed to admit this, but I've already seen "Bolt" twice.
Of course, there's a bit of a punch-line.
It's not that I found myself so in love with "Bolt," the latest full-length animated feature from Disney Studios. In fact, quite the contrary is true.
The first time, I hated it.
I still don't really know why, but "Bolt" just really rubbed me the wrong way at my first viewing. It's not that I was going to trash the film, which stars John Travolta as Bolt, an adorable puppy who has grown up on the set of a popular television series on which he weekly protects his young owner (Miley Cyrus) from your stereotypical television baddie (Malcolm McDowell). I recognized it as a competent animated film...just nothing special.
It bored me.
The story was boring and it all struck me as a bit unimaginative.
I was challenged on my views, however, by a couple of local film critics who felt I was being a tad too harsh on the film. Heck, one even called it Disney's best non-Pixar film in years.
I'm not willing to go that far, but I relented to a second viewing and the impossible has happened.
I was wrong.
I'm still not sure what happened at my first viewing, but I can't deny that a second viewing of "Bolt" elicited laughs, smiles, a few giggles and enough warm fuzzies to please virtually any child or adult in the audience.
The story, from Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams, is a fairly basic "Gets lost. Gets found. Learns lessons." storyline. It's the way that co-directors Chris Williams and Byron Howard bring it all to life that makes "Bolt" such a delight. "Bolt" is a throwback to the days when films didn't work overtime throwing everything at you, but instead simply tried to tell a kid-friendly, reasonably compelling story while creating a visual and sensory feast. Rather than the non-stop, pop cultura spewathon known as "Shrek," "Bolt" is about this young dog who suddenly finds himself facing the real world when he inadvertently gets separated from the stage and the safety of the world he's always known.
"Bolt" is funny. "Bolt" is entertaining. "Bolt" is sweet" and "Bolt" is respectful to children rather than pandering to them, something for which British family films has been known for more of late than anything produced by American studios.
As Bolt, John Travolta is a vibrant, energetic and high-spirited puppy extraordinaire. Somewhat reminiscent of his serious, yet modestly tongue-in-cheek performance in "Hairspray," Travolta literally seems to embody Bolt with human qualities in his four-legged world.
Travolta's supporting cast, while clearly acting in his shadows, are nonetheless pleasing in their own ways with Miley Cyrus, Malcolm McDowell and Susie Essman all doing a nice job while Mark Walton, as Rhino the Bolt-worshipping hamster, steals virtually all of his scenes.
"Bolt" offers little new to the animated world, though I will admit to more than once being awed by the animal movements and how realistic they felt.
Sweet and sincere, funny and entertaining, "Bolt" is a breath of fresh air after the disappointing mediocrity of "Madagascar 2." While it's not quite up to the standards of Pixar yet, this endearing puppy in his brave new world will win your heart and make you smile. This coming holiday weekend, that's something the entire family can be thankful for!
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic