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Pixar adopts a puppy in a loveable Bolt

by Glen Baity

Pixar adopts a puppy in a loveable Bolt

Big-studio animation these last few years has been dominated by ninja panda bears, loveable ogres and pretty much anything dreamed up by John Lasseter. Casual talkinganimal movie fans might not know Lasseter’s name, but there’s a reason childless people like me have DVD shelves full of his movies, from Toy Story to Wall-E. Lasseter is the big brain behind Pixar, and the guiding force that makes masterpieces out of kid’s stuff. He also happens to be a late-game addition to the production team of Bolt, a film started by Disney Animation Studios during the shake-up that saw Pixar briefly depart from the House of Mouse a few years ago.

When the two companies kissed and made up, Lasseter was tasked with revamping Bolt. So while it’s not technically a Pixar movie, since the idea didn’t originate in that studio, it still feels like one, much to its benefit. The film’s title character is a snow-white Shepherd (either American or German, based on my intermediate-level Googling skills) stuck in his own Truman Show. Bolt (voiced by John Travolta) is the star of a prime-time television series opposite his owner, Penny (Miley Cyrus). He can topple armies with his powerful bark, shoot lasers from his eyes and run like the Flash on four legs. None of it, of course, is real, but the show’s controlling director (James Lipton of “Inside the Actor’s Studio”) believes that Bolt, to deliver the goods on set, must believe it’s all real (okay, it’s kind of a dumb conceit). So when the weekly show ends in a cliffhanger with his beloved owner kidnapped, Bolt busts out of his

trailer, intent on using his nonexistent superpowers to rescue her. His mission will take him from LA to New York and back again, during which he enlists the help of alley cat Mittens (Susie Essman) and spherical hamster Rhino (Mark Walton). Along the way, Bolt has to learn to cope with not being a superhero and embrace the simpler pleasures of life as man’s best friend. It’s a good movie for kids, with a simple lesson, bright visuals and enough action to keep them interested. It also includes no age-inappropriate pop culture references designed to make the old folks chuckle, one of my pet peeves in a children’s movie. Bolt might lack the ambition and inventive spirit that sets Pixar apart (sorry, no mute trash compactors in love here), but all the other ingredients are present: the writing is clever, the voice acting is spirited and engaging, and the animation is full of life. Kudos in particular to Walton, a Disney animator whose excitable vocal style gives Rhino some of the film’s best moments. He’s an indispensable part of a cast that features a few celebrities, but nobody whose public persona overshadows their character (something that happens all too often in big-studio animated films these days). A word of warning: If you’re an animal lover, you’re a goner — this movie is relentlessly sweet, nearly to the point of being overbearing. But it’s likeable enough to get by with it, and anyway, it’s a Disney movie. If you were trying to avoid a little sap, you made a wrong turn at the box office. Besides, the sentiment, sticky as it is, feels genuine, and it makes Bolt stick in your mind a little more than the average kiddie flick. Like it or not, this puppy will follow you home.

To comment on this article, send your e-mail to glen.baity@gmail.com.

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