About the most enthusiasm I can muster for Disney Studio’s Bolt 3-D—the newest entrant in capturing the hearts and minds of children (and the pocket books of their parents)—is to note that it exists. Beyond that, there isn’t much more to say about the film. It’s an innocuous, bland little animated movie with more formulas than a chemistry book. But since Bolt never tries to be anything more, it’ll be perfectly satisfactory for youngsters and consummately dull for parents.
The real draw is the film’s eyes-a-poppin’ 3-D presentation—which isn’t available at every theater. With the recent advent of digital projection and the 3-D renaissance it has allowed, no one has taken full advantage of the process like they could—or should—and Bolt is no different. (I’m holding out hope that the upcoming My Bloody Valentine 3-D will be trashy enough to give 3-D the treatment it truly deserves). In many ways, Bolt is worse than recent 3-D attempts. While it does carry some on-screen visual depth, the effects are as ho-hum as the rest of the movie, adding nothing to the film or the experience, making it feel like nothing more than a gimmicky afterthought created to milk a few extra bucks out of each ticket sale. There’s nary a memorable effect (other than the 3-D-induced headache you might get) in the entirety of Bolt. At least Meet the Robinsons (2007) had a neat flying sausage.
Beyond that, the film boasts the voice talents of John Travolta, Miley Cyrus and Malcolm McDowell (OK, I get Cyrus’ inclusion, but I never realized that 8-year-olds love Saturday Night Fever and A Clockwork Orange). Travolta voices Bolt, a heroic, super-powered canine on a once-popular, but now waning, TV show, where he runs around saving young Penny from the clutches of the nefarious Dr. Calico (McDowell). The only problem, however, is that Bolt—in some extraordinarily contrived scripting—doesn’t realize his life is prime-time programming, as the show’s director (Inside the Actor’s Studio’s James Lipton) believes in method acting to the extent that Bolt’s not allowed to know his life is being taped and manipulated by a TV studio.
It’s not until Bolt thinks Penny has once again been kidnapped that he escapes the studio lot and makes his way into the real world, only to find that his powers are nil (at first, he thinks it’s due to the Kryptonite-like effects of Styrofoam packing peanuts). After recruiting a declawed, neglected stray cat named Mittens (Susie Essman, The Man) and an overzealous hamster named Rhino (Mark Walton, Chicken Little), Bolt begins a cross-country journey from Manhattan to L.A. in order to rescue poor Penny. The trip quickly becomes a PG-rated story of animated self-discovery, as Bolt realizes the fraudulence of his life up to this point (how existential!) before, of course, overcoming all this in the final act.
The film’s lone bright spot is its Wachowskis-esque action opener, which works on the novel concept of the viewer being able to tell what is happening in an action sequence (James Bond, take note). But it’s all downhill from there as the movie’s humor is made up of pithy wisecracks and some stale, truly horrid Hollywood satire, with neither hide, nor hair of a surprise to be found in the entire movie. Bolt’s never actively bad, but it is—much like all Disney animation not festooned with the Pixar logo—actively uneventful. Rated PG for some mild action and peril.