Bolt, if you believe some of the hype doing the rounds, is a ‘return to form’ for Disney animation. I regularly have a problem with the phrase ‘return to form’, given that it tends to get banded around in some circles without much consideration for what ‘off form’ actually is. For my money, Disney had lost its way after 2002’s Treasure Planet, with Brother Bear, Home On The Range and Chicken Little, all surprisingly unambitious from the once-leaders in the world of animated movies.
But don’t overlook Meet The Robinsons, a film that, more than Bolt, sees Disney just looking a good sight more confident again. Robinsons is no masterpiece, but it’s a damn fine family film, and a really pleasant surprise.
Bolt, meanwhile, is the first animated film to be entirely produced by Disney since the merger with Pixar, and since John Lasseter took the reins where animated output was concerned. And, to be fair, you can see the Pixar influences. The script seems a little bit savvier and contemporary, the animation is outstanding, and the film itself – even though it outstays its welcome slightly – is a solidly told family tale. That said, it does just about earn that PG certificate it’s adorned with; that wouldn’t even have been feasible under the old regime (with the sole exception of the slightly different Dinosaur).
The story, and we’re introduced to it in an action-packed opening act, is that of Bolt the dog, the star of a hit TV series about a superhero canine. Along with human sidekick Penny, Bolt fights evil, utilises his special superhero bark, and generally saves the world on a regular basis. Problem is, Bolt thinks that this life is the real deal, and when he, through a fairly typical contrivance, finds himself out in the real world, he gets the inevitable short, sharp shock.
This is where Bolt segues into a road movie of sorts, as the canine not-so-super hero tries to get back to Penny. Along the way, inevitably, he picks up a few friends, and this is where Disney has a legacy of delivering. For the side characters in many Disney movies tend to be memorable, and that’s certainly the case here. Rhino The Hamster is a sparkling, very funny creation, and in conjunction with a troupe of birds who continually fail to realise where they recognise Bolt from, there are regular laughs as a result.
That said, the film itself has a few problems. It feels like it goes on for a good ten minutes too long, and has to get a gallop on to wrap up its plot strands in time for Miley Cyrus’ gruesome song. It’s also aimed very much at younger filmgoers, odd considering the PG rating, and there aren’t too many bones thrown out to the parents who have been dragged along to pay.
But still, Bolt is a fun, strongly animated movie, and the latest example of a Disney that’s discovered some self-belief.
Furthermore, what Bolt ultimately demonstrates is just where Disney animation fits into the new regime. If you’re looking for the daring, risk-taking material, then look for that Pixar logo. If you’re looking for big name stars doing the voiceovers, and plenty of pop culture references, then you need a DreamWorks movie. Disney? It’s happily sitting between the two, and on the basis of Bolt, it can make perfectly good family movies to bridge the gap.