November 20, 2008

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Bolt (PG)
A superdog (or so he thinks) travels cross country to save his person, a little girl named Penny, in Bolt, a cute, funny and thoroughly entertaining animated movie.

Bolt (voice of John Travolta) has been modified and enhanced — he has super speed, laser eyes, super strength, the ability to stop a speeding limousine with his head and a super bark (it can reduce a stretch of road and the tanks traveling on it to rubble). At least, he thinks he has these powers. In fact, Bolt is the lead dog on a TV show where he and human Penny (Miley Cyrus) fight an evil Dr. Calico (Malcolm McDowell) and his equally evil cats. To ensure that Bolt will be forever “in the moment,” the show has gone to pains to make him think it’s all real, to think that Penny is really in danger and that he can really fell a bad-guy henchman with a single karate chop of his paw.

But the network wants more. Attempts to up the excitement lead to a cliffhanger, which leads Bolt to think that his precious Penny has really been captured by Dr. Calico. In his eagerness to chase after her, Bolt winds up stuck inside a box and overnighted to New York City. In his attempt to find and rescue Penny, he captures Mittens (Susie Essman), a sassy street-wise cat who, because she is a cat, Bolt assumes is in cahoots with Dr. Calico. Mittens, meanwhile, thinks Bolt is a delusional nutcase and is constantly looking for a chance to escape as he drags her across the country. Along the way, they are joined by Rhino (Mark Walton), a hamster who, due to his copious TV watching, is a huge fan of Bolt and eager to join in an adventure.

If you have kids, you probably already know about Rhino. More importantly, they probably already know about Rhino. He appears in the trailer, working himself into giddy hysterics at the prospect of joining Bolt on an adventure. For much of the movie, he’s inside a hamster ball, a device that the movie uses for great comedy and visual effect. Bolt might be the title character with the famous actor’s voice but it’s the furry, chubby Rhino, voiced by an animator, who steals the movie.

Actually, it’s Rhino, the fast-talking smartypants Mittens and Penny’s wonderfully insincere agent (Greg Germann) who steal the movie. Bolt and Penny are straight men in most of their scenes. They move the plot forward but the laughs (and moderate amount of pathos) come from the supporting characters in the scene.

It appears that the movie will screen both in digital 3-D and as a two-dimensional film. The animation looks great in 3-D, all subtle rounded edges (which is how I saw it), but I think it will look just as good in 2-D. Bolt is not a Pixar movie but it has the high-quality feel of a Pixar movie, with really pretty visuals and likeable characters that are as funny and entertaining for adults as they are to kids. B+

Rated PG for some mild action and peril. Directed by Chris Williams and written by Dan Fogelman and Chris Williams, Bolt is an hour and 36 minutes long and is distributed by Buena Pictures Distribution. It opens wide on Friday, Nov. 21