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Blu-ray Review: Bolt (2008)

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The Film

It only takes a few minutes in front of Bolt to realize that despite the fact that Disney owns Pixar, the Pixar magic hasn't quite rubbed off on the folks at the Mouse House.  But really, was anyone actually expecting something on par with WALL·E?

Putting the brilliance that is Pixar out of sight and mind for 90 minutes will go a long way in aiding your enjoyment of Bolt, a pleasant film experience that’s hardly remarkable, but notable for being the first Disney feature to be conceived entirely in 3-D.

I’ll be honest; I’m wary of the 3-D trend that seems to be a requirement for every major animated release or concert film, and I dread the day when live action narrative films require a 3-D version as well. I hope it never comes to that. But having seen Bolt only in a non-3-D environment, it’s nice to realize that even a film intended for that format doesn’t have to suffer visually on a regular release.

Bolt tells the story of the titular dog who appears to have superpowers, but is really just the star of an elaborately structured, big-budget television show that bears more than a few similarities to Inspector Gadget. Each week’s plot revolves around Bolt (John Travolta) saving his owner Penny (Miley Cyrus) from the hordes of baddies after them, using his super-dog strength to bend steel bars, run at incredible speeds, and plow over enemies with a single bark. To ensure authenticity, Bolt must believe he actually possesses powers, so cameras are always hidden and scenes are never re-shot.

Trouble is, ratings are falling, and the network is demanding edgier material, so a new plotline involving Penny’s kidnapping is developed. Bolt isn’t informed of the fictional nature of her disappearance, and takes the first chance he can to escape the set and find his owner. Along the way, he meets up with an incredulous New Yorker cat named Mittens (Susie Essman) and TV-obsessed hamster Rhino (Mark Walton) who is also convinced that the events of the show are real.

The beginning of the film is clever, and the ending is predictably sweet, but the middle portion is mostly forgettable – a muddle of cause-and-effect events that aren’t too interesting. What sells the film is the superb animation, which is immaculate, and some excellent voice work — just not from the leads.

Walton, one of the film’s animators, imbues Rhino with a hyperactive energy that easily makes him the film’s most winning character. Supporting voices from Malcom McDowell, James Lipton, and Greg Germann are also great. Immensely distracting, though, is Cyrus’s work — her distinctive, nasally voice feels wrong for the character. The part initially belonged to Chloe Moretz, and she had already voiced all the lines, but Cyrus was brought on later. It’s an understandable marketing move, but not a great aesthetic one.

Bolt is entertaining, but it has few exceptional moments. Not thinking about what animated films can be in the hands of the Pixar crew helps it go down a lot easier, though.

The Blu-ray Disc

Bolt is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The picture is frequently spectacular, and spans a wide spectrum of visual motifs. The film’s early scenes on the set of the television show are an incisive replica and/or parody of a Michael Bay film, with cool tones, sleek design, and plenty of slo-mo action. The glossy yet muted look of these scenes is strong with smooth grays and blues standing out.

The rest of the film carries a palpable visual warmth, whether replicating the streets of New York City, the expansive sky of the Midwest or the brightness of L.A. Fine detail is often visible, especially with animal fur. Colors are even throughout, appropriate to the setting of the scene. Picture sharpness and clarity is excellent.

The audio is presented in Dolby 5.1 DTS-HD, and supports the visuals nicely, sounding like a very loud big-budget production in earlier scenes, while moving to a warm mix later that features lots of ambient sound, whether it be city noises or the gentle hum of the countryside.

Special Features

There are a number of easily digestible special features (none more than several minutes long) included, and all are presented in 1080p.

A new short film, "Super Rhino," doesn’t have any different ideas from the film, but is mildly funny nonetheless. Two deleted scenes are presented in storyboard and sketch form, with optional introductions by the directors. The most interesting featurette is about the two directors, Byron Howard and Chris Williams, who made their directorial debut with this film. Other featurettes include a piece about the voiceover work and a piece about the animation design.

A music video, a making-of the music video, a side-to-side action game and an art gallery round out the extras. Two bonus discs are included – one is a digital copy and one is a DVD of the film.

The Bottom Line

Bolt is no great achievement, but it has more than enough merits to be an enjoyable viewing experience. What’s interesting about the Blu-ray release is Disney is releasing it two days before the DVD in an apparent attempt to push the format further. Two days isn’t much, but it’ll be interesting to see if it has any real impact.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.