Bolt has the singular distinction of being the first non-Pixar animated film from Disney since the merger that installed John Lasseter as the head of the animation department. His influence definitely shows, as it is a step up from other recent offerings from the studio, including Meet the Robinsons and Chicken Little. At the same time, it also shows that Pixar is not the Lasseter show; the studio's success can be attributed to the collaboration of an entire group of creative minds. But we aren't here for Pixar discussion, we are here for the latest Disney release, Bolt, a movie that builds up immense amounts of good will based on the solid writing, while remaining well within the realm of the expected.
The story, from screenwriters Dan Fogelman (Fred Claus, Cars) and Chris Williams (The Emperor's New Groove, Mulan), bears more than a passing resemblance to Pixar's breakout 1995 hit Toy Story (coincidentally directed by John Lasseter). Both films involve characters that believe the world is a different place than it really is and rely on other characters to remove the blinders from their eyes, thus revealing the real world for what it is while working together to attain a similar goal. The comparison is apt and it does sap Bolt from having any feeling of originality, but that does not matter as the script is lively, the characters stand on their on, and it is just flat out enjoyable regardless of your age.
In addition to Toy Story comparisons, you will also find a healthy dose of The Truman Show, as well as touches of Inspector Gadget, The Six-Million Dollar Man, and probably a few others that I missed. All of them blend nicely into a story that's centered on the tried and true theme of believing in oneself.
As Bolt opens we are introduced to a playful puppy more interested in a chew-carrot than in performing for the people walking by. This changes when a young girl picks him out of the puppy crowd. Time jumps ahead five years and we are dropped into the middle of an action sequence. Bolt (John Travolta) and Penny (Miley Cyrus) are battling an evildoer with a penchant for cats named Dr. Calico who has kidnapped Penny's father, complete with the bad intentions of a Bond villain. It is up to our heroic pup and person duo to set things right.