I watched Bolt for the first time when it first came out on DVD. Back then, I didn’t dislike it, but it didn’t work for me. I don’t know if it was the mood that I was in or I may have been thinking about other things, but I didn’t feel it. Going into my second watch of it, I thought I was going to have the same reaction. But sitting down on a quiet day, with a clear mind made me see the film in a different light, and now I think it is one of the best that Disney has produced.
The story and the moral are not the most original. If you get down to the nitty gritty it is just about a lost dog looking for his owner. Yes, it’s a nice story, but one that should be put in moratorium for a while. But the story is only a small part of why the movie ultimately works. Chief among these things is the work of the filmmakers.
The movie had a troubled production. It was originally supposed to be written and directed by Chris Sanders and was called American Dog. It pretty much followed the same story line of a TV star dog who gets lost, believing he really is a super dog. However, it differed in that he gets lost in the desert and it involved a one-eyed cat and a mutated rabbit. But after an early screening, John Lasseter and others suggested some story changes. He refused to make them, and they had to start over.
Sanders was replaced by Byron Howard and Chris Williams, and they did an excellent job in making Bolt work. They created one of the most exciting action sequences in animation history, they (and the animators, of course) gave the characters realistic body language that helped when it came down to the emotional parts of the film. And the rest of the film is deliciously staged.
Speaking of animation, this is a definite improvement over Chicken Little and Meet the Robinsons. The character designs, and the overall look of the film is extremely inspired. According to the filmmakers they based the design and the look around the paintings of Edward Hooper and the cinematography of Vilmos Zsigmond. The result is one of the most attractive CGI animated films in recent memory. In fact, it oddly feels like a 2D animated film, even though it was made to be shown in 3D.
As for the performances, they are rather fantastic. John Travolta was perfectly cast, and after a while I forgot that I was listening to his voice. Miley Cyrus gives the best performance she will probably ever give. And Susie Essman and Mark Walton are great as Bolt’s sidekicks on his journey across America.
After a dip in quality and little push by Meet the Robinsons, Bolt finally put Disney back in its former glory. Let’s see if this new renaissance continues on their post-Tangled films.